This article provides information on health and safety rights and protections at work for pregnant women. For more information on health and safety during COVID, see our FAQ page on rights relating to pregnancy and new parents and our page on health and safety after maternity leave.
Health and safety risk assessment
Employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment and to manage risks to the health and safety of their employees. Risk assessments help employers to manage health and safety risks, and those who employ women of childbearing age have a duty to complete health and safety assessment to identify risks to pregnant women.
As soon as your employer has been informed that you are pregnant, you can request that a health and safety assessment be completed for you. Every pregnancy is different, so the assessment should be done with you.
There is a sample letter that you can use to request a health and safety risk assessment from your employer. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also has useful guidance for employers how what to include in a health and safety risk assessment.
If the risk assessment reveals a risk, your employer must do all that is reasonable to remove it or prevent your exposure to it. Your employer must give you information on the risks and what action has been taken.
Risks the assessment should cover
The risk assessment must include an assessment of risks to new and expectant mothers arising from any ‘processes, working conditions, physical, biological and chemical agents’. The most common risks from working conditions for new and expectant mothers include:
- standing or sitting for long periods
- lifting or carrying heavy loads
- long working hours
- working at height
- workstation and posture issues
- work-related stress
There are also risks through exposure to:
- radioactive material
- toxic chemicals like mercury and pesticides
- carbon monoxide
- infectious diseases
Your employer must take into account any medical advice from a GP or midwife about your health, for example if you have any pregnancy-related medical conditions, and adjust your working conditions accordingly. It might therefore be helpful to ask your GP or midwife what risks there are for you at work, and what changes to your working conditions would help you. You can ask for a letter from them on the risks so that your employer can take this into account.
After conducting Your employer must consider the risks and take action as follows:
- Step 1: Temporarily alter your working conditions or hours of work, if this is reasonable and avoids the risk, such as allowing extra breaks, ensuring that you can sit down and avoiding heavy lifting.
- Step 2: If temporary alterations to your working conditions are not possible or do not avoid the risk, your employer must offer you suitable alternative work on terms and conditions that are not substantially less favourable than your original job.
- Step 3: If there is no suitable alternative work, your employer must suspend you on full pay for as long as necessary to avoid the risk.
If your employer offers you alternative work, it must be similar to your usual role and something that you can do with your skills and experience. The work must also be offered on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than your usual job. Importantly, this means that any alternative job must be offered on the same pay and for the same hours or days. If your employer can only offer you an alternative role on reduced hours, then your normal salary must be continued.
Frequently asked questions
What rights do I have if I’m an agency worker?
If you are not an employee, for example, if you are an agency worker (with less than 12 weeks service with a hirer), you only have the right to a risk assessment and for risks to be removed, not to an alternative or a suspension.
If you are an agency worker and you have completed a 12 week qualifying period with the same hirer in the same role, and your role ends on maternity health and safety grounds, the agency should offer you any suitable alternative work that is available. If the agency cannot find any suitable alternative work for you (and where you have not unreasonably refused suitable alternative work offered), they should pay you for the rest of the placement that has been ended.
What rights do I have if I’m self-employed?
If you are self-employed, you are only partly covered by the health and safety rules. At each place where you work, the person responsible for health and safety must carry out a risk assessment taking into account the particular risks to you as a new or expectant mother. They must then comply with the health and safety legislation about those risks.
However, you do not have the right to be offered different work or to be suspended on full pay. You could ask for alternative work if you are concerned, but your client is not obliged to provide it.
Note that it may be the case that you are actually an employee rather than a self employed person and, if so, you will benefit from the rights described above. If you are unsure whether you are an employee or self employed you should take further advice.
What if my employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment?
It may be automatic sex discrimination if your employer refuses or fails to carry out a risk assessment in respect of a pregnant woman. This means there is no need to show that a male employee would have been treated differently.
Your employer must carry out a risk assessment if you inform them in writing that you are pregnant, and if you request that a risk assessment be carried out specific to your pregnancy or you raise a health and safety concern.
If your employer refuses to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, and you have concerns about your health and safety at work, you should raise your concerns in writing and seek further advice. Maternity action has a model letter that you can use to raise a concern about your health and safety.
Always try to resolve the matter informally first – explain your concerns to your employer, and refer them to the HSE guidance if appropriate. If your employer still doesn’t respond, you might consider raising a grievance. If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, you may be able to start a tribunal claim for discrimination (seek advice and act quickly, as a claim must be started within three months of the act of discrimination).
My employer won’t suspend me and says I should take sick leave
You should not have to take sick leave because of a health and safety risk at work. You should only take sick leave if you are too ill to work. If you are too ill to work because of a pregnancy related medical condition, but you could work with an adjustment (e.g., more opportunities to sit down, rest, reduced hours), then your employer must follow the steps above. If a risk remains, you have the right to suitable alternative work or, if none exists, to be suspended on full pay.
If you are forced to take sick leave and you only receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during that time, when you should have been suspended on full pay, you may be able to claim pregnancy discrimination as your employer is treating you unfavourably because of your pregnancy.
You may also be entitled to claim full pay from your employer by making a claim for ‘unlawful deduction of wages’ in an Employment Tribunal. Also, if you are forced to take sick leave and you don’t receive full pay, you may lose all or most of your Statutory Maternity Pay (see ‘taking sick leave during pregnancy’ below).
If this happens to you, you should raise your concerns with your employer in writing and seek further advice. Always try to resolve the matter informally first – explain your concerns to your employer, and refer them to the HSE guidance if appropriate. If your employer still doesn’t respond, you might consider raising a grievance. If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, fails to offer you a suitable alternative job, or fails to suspend you on full pay in the circumstances set out above, you may be able to start a tribunal claim for discrimination and unpaid wages (seek advice and act quickly, as a claim must be started within three months of the act of discrimination).
My employer says there is no risk, but I disagree
If you and your employer cannot agree on whether a condition poses a risk to you and your pregnancy, you can check to see if the risk is recognised as a particular risk to pregnant women. You can check the HSE guidance.
You should also discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife, and if they agree that a certain condition is a risk, you can ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you or your baby.
Remember to raise your health and safety concerns with your employer in writing, and use this template letter to discuss staying off work with your employer.
Can my employer make me do night work?
There are no general health and safety recommendations against pregnant women working at night. Night work is considered to be working for at least three hours between 11pm and 6am.
HSE guidance says that night work itself does not pose any particular risk to pregnant women. However, if your doctor or midwife gives you a certificate that recommends that you avoid night work, your employer must offer you safe and suitable alternative work or, where this is not possible, suspend you on full pay.
If your employer refuses to do this, or offers an alternative which you feel is not safe or not suitable, seek advice.
Can my employer make me travel?
Travelling is generally considered safe for pregnant women, as long as the proper precautions are taken. The NHS has general travel advice for pregnant women. However, travelling can pose a health and safety risk for some pregnant women.
If you have concerns about travelling for work, you should speak to your doctor or midwife for advice. If they recommend that you do not travel, ask for a letter to give to your employer so your employer can make adjustments for you.
Your employer must follow the steps set out above, for example, by considering whether the amount of travelling you do can be temporarily reduced and replaced with some office work.
Can my employer make work long hours?
Under the Working Time Regulations, your average working time should not be more than 48 hours in a seven-day period. You can ‘opt out’ and work longer hours if you agree to it. You are entitled to a 20 minute ‘rest break’ after working 6 hours or more breaks if the work is monotonous.
All employers must provide suitable facilities for a pregnant woman to rest under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations. The Code of Practice states that rest facilities should include the facility to lie down, so you can ask your employer about providing this and make sure you are at the very least taking the 20 minute rest break that you are entitled to after working 6 hours.
Your employer should consider the impact of your working hours and frequency of rest breaks in a health and safety risk assessment. If you have concerns, you should ask your employer to give you reduced hours, break up your shifts, or take more frequent rest breaks. It would be a good idea to ask your doctor or midwife for a recommendation as to your working hours, and to give this to your employer to support your position.
My commute to work is long and exhausting, what can I do?
Unfortunately, the health and safety rules do not apply to exhausting journeys to and from work, usually only travelling which is part of the job. But you could ask your employer whether you can work from home more often, come in later, leave earlier or whether you can temporarily reduce your hours.
If you request a temporary reduction in hours and your employer refuses, you may have claims of indirect sex discrimination or ‘detriment’ if you can show that you have suffered a disadvantage because of the employer’s refusal.
If you are considering making a tribunal claim you should seek legal advice and you must usually make your claim within 3 months (although this may be extended in exceptional circumstances).
I’m exhausted, can I reduce my hours?
Pregnancy can often be tiring. You can ask your employer to reduce your hours on a temporary basis or for a set period. However, you may not have a right to be paid for hours not worked and your maternity pay may be affected.
If your working conditions are making you unwell, discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife and ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you or your baby. Your employer must carry out a risk assessment which could result in you working fewer hours without loss of pay which means your maternity pay will not be affected.
I work with chemicals and I’m worried about safety
Your employer has a duty of care to protect your health and safety at work – specifically, to assess risks that pregnant employees may be exposed to at work, and put in place appropriate measures to control those risks.
Your employer should have carried out a risk assessment immediately after you informed them of your pregnant, to assess and control the risks, including potential exposure to toxic chemicals. If the risks cannot be removed, your employer should have offered you suitable alternative work, or if that was not feasible, suspension on full pay.
If there are specific chemicals that you are worried about, you should check the HSE’s Control of Substances Hazardous to Health.
My employer has offered me alternative work which is not as well paid
The alternative work must be suitable, and not substantially less favourable in terms and conditions, including pay. If, for example, you lose pay or an allowance then the alternative work will not be considered ‘suitable’. If the terms and conditions are the same as your usual work then the position is likely to be suitable. If the work is suitable, you cannot refuse it and ask to be suspended instead.
If you have been offered alternative work that is less favourable in terms of pay or another condition, then you may have be able to claim in an Employment Tribunal that you should have been suspended on your normal pay.
Always try to resolve the matter informally first – explain your concerns to your employer, and refer them to the HSE guidance if appropriate. If your employer still doesn’t respond, you might consider raising a grievance. If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, fails to offer you a suitable alternative job, or fails to suspend you on full pay in the circumstances set out above, you may be able to start a tribunal claim for pregnancy discrimination and/or unpaid wages (seek advice and act quickly, as a claim must be started within three months of the act of discrimination).
What happens if I am suspended for health and safety reasons?
The law says that you must be paid your normal wages or salary during suspension, unless your employer offers you suitable alternative work and you ‘unreasonably’ refused to take the offer up. If your employer fails to pay you for any period during your suspension, you can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal (within 3 months).
You continue to be employed during suspension, so all of your other contractual rights should continue and the period you are away counts towards continuous employment for seniority, pension rights, pay increments, and holiday accrual.
If you are suspended for a pregnancy-related absence (including for health and safety reasons) your employer has the right to automatically start your maternity leave from four weeks before the week your baby is due. During maternity leave you will receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if you are entitled to it.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.