Pregnancy and work – what support to expect

The Duchess of Cambridge’s second pregnancy, which has seen her afflicted again by a rare and debilitating form of morning sickness (‘hyperemesis gravidarum’), has brought the topic of the potentially incapacitating effects of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy to the forefront of many people’s minds.

Whilst the majority of women are not affected by the same serious condition as the Duchess of Cambridge, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (oddly known as morning sickness, when symptoms are by no means limited to the morning, for many) is a common problem for many pregnant women.

Whilst most people are aware of the potential problem of nausea and vomiting when pregnant, many employers are still unaware of the profoundly detrimental effect that it can have on a woman’s ability to work. It is estimated that 30% of pregnant women need to take time off work due to nausea and vomiting symptoms.

So, what protection is afforded to pregnant women in the workplace? The rights of pregnant women in the workplace are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (Section 18) and it is unlawful for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy or an illness relating to her pregnancy.

It is advisable for employers to conduct open and frank discussion with pregnant employees from the very beginning. Rest is essential for women suffering from pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, so some adjustments to working hours or roles may be advisable. Where potential risks exist in the workplace, a risk assessment should be undertaken to ensure the safety of the mother and unborn child (HSE ‘New and Expectant Mothers at Work’ guidance). And, if a woman has been off work, a phased return to work might be advisable until she is feeling stronger again.

For more information about pregnancy and work, and to find out what pregnant employees can expect in terms of support, see the guide on the Health for Work Adviceline knowledge base (‘new and expectant mothers at work’). Or, for information on other work-health related issues, take a look at the Health for Work Adviceline blog.

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