Caring for Pregnant Employees
GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE
Pregnancy can be one of the most vulnerable times of a woman’s life. So, it’s important that when a woman is at work, she can feel safe, protected and as comfortable as possible.
To help ensure this is the case, there is legislation that in place – The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007, Part 6, Chapter 2, Protection of Pregnant, Post Natal and Breastfeeding Employees (from now on referred to as The Pregnancy Regulations). These regulations apply when an employee informs her employer that she is pregnant, has recently given birth or is breastfeeding and provides an appropriate medical certificate. As the earliest stages of pregnancy are the most critical ones for the developing child, it is in the employee’s best interest to let her employer know she is pregnant as soon as possible.
The legislation also requires a company to carry out a risk assessment on any employee who informs their employer that they are pregnant. This risk assessment will identify any hazards, which present a risk during pregnancy.
In addition to the above, the Maternity Protection Acts (1994) and amendment Act 2004 also give information on areas like:
- Maternity Leave
- Healthcare visits
- Protection of job security
- Health and Safety leave
- Health and Safety benefits
How an Employer can have a positive effect on an employee during her pregnancy:
With the legal part dealt with, let’s look at the practical things that an employer can do to make a woman’s experience of pregnancy while working, a positive and healthy one.
For a lot of Moms to be, even the thought of informing their employer that they are pregnant can cause a huge amount of stress and anxiety. So, it is important that as an employer, you create a culture that makes it easy and comfortable for a woman to share their news with you.
One of the reasons that women feel this away about telling their employer is that women can struggle with moving up the career ladder as working moms and pregnant employees can be passed over for promotions or opportunities.
As an employer, there are number of things that you can do to ensure that you are giving as much support as possible and having things in place to make it easier for you and your pregnant employee to transition.
Formalising things like flexibility around working arrangements (like taking time out to attend a doctor appointment etc.) will help take the stress out of taking time off when needed. By formalising work flexibility, then they will have the freedom of meeting their medical needs will not feel like they are advantage.
Promote your family/work benefits
Make sure that employees know about the benefits that you have in place that create a family friendly working environment.
This may seem like an obvious one, but a woman’s body is going to change dramatically during her pregnancy. If she works at a desk, then it is critical that a pregnancy VDU assessment is done as soon as possible and perhaps again as the pregnancy progresses. If she works in a more physical environment, then the risk assessment will show what may need to be done to make the working environment safer and more comfortable for her to work in.
Keep the lines of communication open all the way through her pregnancy. Whether that be her Manager or a member of the HR team, make sure she knows that there is format for her to communicate any issues she may be having. Involve her in the interview process for her role while she is out. Check in with her on a regular basis and make sure to meet with her before she leaves for maternity leave. At this meeting ask her what kind of contact she wants (if any) while she is off and her preference of method for keeping in contact. By doing this, you will make her feel appreciated and kept in the look when returning from maternity leave. You will also need to let her know of any promotions opportunities as well as any other important company news. Continue to send newsletters and company-wide notifications, and invite her to any social occasions, even if she cannot make it, it’s nice to be included.
Return to work
Consider holding a welcome back coffee morning or lunch for the employee when she returns from her leave and try and make her feel comfortable, no doubt she could be feeling anxious about being back, after such a long time away. If there have been any changes to her role while she has been away, then its important to relay these to her as soon as you can.
At the end of the day, you must never treat a female employee in a negative way, just because of her maternity leave. It is important to agree her return date before she even leaves and never put pressure on her while she is away.
The most important thing is that she feels supported and comfortable, treating her in the right way will help her feel motivated and confident about returning to work, which is a win-win for both parties. For more information on Pregnancy or New Mothers’ Risk Assessments or advice on creating a Wellbeing Programme, get in touch.