This article provides information on pregnancy-related sickness 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 rights for pregnant women.
If you are too ill to work you need to take sick leave. You should follow your employer’s sick leave procedures. Most employers will allow you to have a few days off without a doctor’s note, but for longer periods of time they can ask for a doctor’s note.
Sick leave is unlike other forms of leave in that you can eventually be disciplined or dismissed for taking too much (except for illness related to pregnancy). If you have odd days of sickness here and there and your employer believes you are taking more time off than you need or that you are not genuinely ill, your employer may discipline or dismiss you for misconduct.
If you have a long period of sickness or repeated periods of illness (except for illness related to pregnancy), even if your employer believes your illness to be genuine, your employer can say that you are no longer able to work and dismiss you on the grounds of capability. This is true even if your illness was caused in the workplace.
How long you can have off will depend on lots of factors, including your length of service and how long your illness is likely to last, as well as your employer’s need to find someone to cover your absence.
In determining how much sickness absence you have had, employers are not allowed to take into account:
- Pregnancy related illness during your pregnancy.
- Time off for ante-natal appointments for your pregnancy
- Maternity, Paternity, Adoption or Shared Parental leave
- Parental leave
- Time off for dependants
- Health and safety suspension
- Holiday or annual leave
If you have been off sick for a long time, sometimes an employer will ask you to submit to an occupational health assessment, or to give consent to a medical report being sought from your GP. Unless your contract says you must agree to this, you can say no, but your employer might draw their own conclusions if you say no.
If you are ill during pregnancy, your employer’s normal sickness rules apply, with a few exceptions. If the illness is pregnancy-related it should be recorded as such and it should be ignored in respect of any employment decision or the assessment of any benefits at any stage of your employment.
Your sickness absence during pregnancy should not count towards your sickness record if your employer has a procedure that may lead to dismissal once an employee reaches a certain level of sickness absence.
For this reason it is a good idea for your doctor to state on your sick notes when an illness is pregnancy-related.
Sick leave for health and safety risks
You should not be asked to go on sick leave if the reason you cannot work is because it is not safe for you or your baby. This is true even if you have a pregnancy-related medical condition that makes it more difficult for you to do your job.
You are entitled to protection from your employer in this situation – you should not be penalised by being forced to take sick leave. The law says that if you cannot do your job because it involves a health and safety risk to you or your baby, your employer must either:
- Remove the risk – for example, avoiding heavy lifting if this is usually part of your job
- If the risk cannot be removed, offer you suitable alternative work on the same pay
If neither option is possible, your employer must suspend you on full pay for as long as the risk continues, which could be right up until the point you start your maternity leave.
If you receive less than full pay or are put on sick leave in this situation then you may have a claim for pregnancy discrimination. 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. If this happens to you, you should seek advice straight away. Also see our article on health and safety rights for pregnant women for more information.
Frequently asked questions
What pay can I get if I am off sick during pregnancy?
You should check your contract to see if you are entitled to any contractual sick pay. Most employees and agency workers are at the minimum entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, or Employment and Support Allowance.
You should not be treated less favourably than other employees because you are sick. For instance, you should be paid your employer’s normal sick pay. If your employer does not have sick pay or you have exhausted your entitlement, then your employer must pay you Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you meet the conditions of entitlement.
Will my maternity pay be affected if I am off sick and on SSP?
If you do not receive full pay from your employer when you are off sick or your earnings drop in weeks 18 to 26 of your pregnancy, your Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) may be reduced. Your SMP depends on what you actually receive during the calculation period. If you only receive Statutory Sick Pay during this period you will not qualify for SMP, as you need to earn the lower earnings limit to qualify. If you do not qualify for SMP, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance, but you may better off financially by using your annual leave during these weeks if your maternity pay is at risk. For more information, see our article on calculating maternity pay.
Can my employer start my maternity leave early if I am off sick?
Your employer can start your maternity leave automatically if you are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week your baby is due. It does not matter what you previously agreed with your employer. Your maternity leave and any maternity pay will start on the day after the first day of absence from work. However, your employer may choose to overlook the odd day of absence during this period if they wish.
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.