How to respond when an employee tells you they are pregnant (and what not to say)

10th March 2018

Knowing what to say to your employee, when they first tell you they’re pregnant, can be a real dilemma! As well as how to plan for her maternity leave. Here are some practical tips to help you get it right.

When you’re employee first tells you she’s pregnant, you’re pleased for her of course but you’d be forgiven for having a ‘what does that mean for me and the team’ moment (you’re only human after all).

Finding the right words can be tricky. Say too little, you risk looking cold or uncaring. Say too much, or ask too many questions like ‘how long will you be off for,’ you could make a comment that gets you in trouble.

 

If you’re wondering what you are allowed to ask, what can’t you say, and how to prepare, this covers what you need to know.

What to do when they first share their happy news

  1. Congratulate them!

As simple as it sounds congratulations shouldn’t be forgotten. You may have many questions as a business owner about what you need to do, but to your employee they are on a new journey to parenthood, they are excited. Also, don’t underestimate their nervousness about telling you as their boss that they are pregnant, they may have been worried about telling you. Put them at ease and let them talk about their exciting news, you can book a more formal meeting to talk about the details later.

  1. Book in a meeting to talk about the details

An employee needs to tell you they are pregnant by the 15th week before the baby is due and once they have told you can book a meeting for them to give you some more details. Good questions to ask at this meeting are:

  • When is their due date
  • Ask them to let you know when they have antenatal appointments so you can plan them in and know when they will be out of the workplace.
  • When are they planning on starting their maternity leave?
  • Are they planning on taking any holiday before starting their maternity leave?
  • How long are they planning on taking for their leave?
  • Tell them about their right to KIT days (keep in touch days) they are entitled to up to 10 days during their maternity leave. These are paid in full and tend to be taken nearer the end of maternity leave to help with the transition back to work.
  1. Think about Health and Safety

As an employer you should think about the role the employee is doing and take into account any health and safety risks to the pregnant employee and their baby. Things you need to think about are if their job involves heavy lifting, sitting or standing for long periods without a break, exposure to toxic substances and long working hours. If you identify any risks, you should try to take sensible action to reduce or remove them.

What NOT to do!

Don’t fall in the trap of making one of these rookie mistakes

  1. Don’t stereotype or make generalisations

Some pregnant employees will want to talk about their pregnancy, appointments and baby purchases, but some wont. Don’t assume that because your employee is pregnant, they want to talk about babies all the time, and just because they are taking time out to have a baby it doesn’t mean they are any less focused or committed to their job. A lot of the time pregnant employees want to continue to do their job and deliver their tasks as they did before telling you they were pregnant.

  1. Don’t deny your pregnant employee time off for antenatal appointments

This is a legal entitlement for pregnant employees and although you can expect them to give you notice of these appointments, you shouldn’t stop them from attending them. Antenatal appointments include medical appointments but can also include relaxation classes and parentcraft classes.

  1. Don’t treat them differently because of their pregnancy

Once an employee has told you they are pregnant, they are protected against unfair dismissal, unfair treatment and discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy. You have a duty to make sure you are not treating someone differently or less favourably because of their pregnancy.

  1. Don’t deny the right to maternity leave

Your pregnant employee is entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, they don’t have to take all of it but the first 2 weeks after having a baby must be taken as maternity leave (this mandatory period of leave is 4 weeks for factory workers). All employees are entitled to maternity leave regardless of how long they have been employed, as long as they tell you at least 15 weeks before their due date.

So we have talked a bit about what to do and what not to do, but what about other things should you think about. A couple of other questions that crop up when talking about this subject are, do I need to pay employees whilst they are off and how do I cover their role whilst they are off. Below are some practical things to consider in relation to those questions.

Do I need to pay my pregnant employee statutory maternity pay?

Although all employees are entitled to maternity leave, not all are entitled to statutory maternity pay. A few questions below will help you to understand if they have a right to statutory pay or not:

  • Do they earn on average at least £116 a week?
  • Did they tell you of the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before their due date?
  • Have they given you proof of their pregnancy (this is a form called a MAT B1 given at the 20 week appointment from the midwife. It will tell you when the expected week of childbirth is)
  • Have they worked with you for at least 26 weeks continuing into the qualifying week – 15th week before expected week of childbirth?

If they answer yes to these questions you will be expected to pay statutory maternity pay.

How to cover the work whilst the employee is on maternity leave?

As an employer you will need to fill the gap whilst your employee is on maternity leave. You should review the current employees job description and speak to the employee about the duties in their role, so you know exactly what needs to be covered. There are a few options to cover leave:

  • Recruit a replacement for the period of maternity leave
  • Redistribute the work for the period of maternity leave
  • Can the work wait? Establish if the work being done can wait until the employee is back

With the option of recruiting a replacement, it is important to keep in mind that you should only recruit for someone to cover the role on a temporary basis e.g. on a contract with a specific end date. As an employer you have a duty to keep a role for the pregnant employee to return to on the same terms and conditions as they left. If they take 26 weeks or under they have the right to return to the exact job they left, if they take over 26 weeks they have the right to a return to a similar role if it is not practical for them to return to the exact role they left.

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