Pregnancy at the work place and your rights

The 12 things you MUST know……………….

Being pregnant is an experience that invokes many emotions and life changes and this fact needs to be fully acknowledged. Biological and physiological changes, including hormonal changes may lead to nausea, mood swings, fatigue and a host of other symptoms, and handling these changes requires specific attention. This is especially more so when you have a family to look after and other children to take care of, and for single parents, the responsibilities increase even further. We mothers have a tendency to put family first at the expense of our own wellbeing and this way of being needs to shift when pregnant.

While pregnant, please don’t expect to function every day at work at the same level you did before you were pregnant. If you are to continue working you had better be honest with your employer or supervisor about your capabilities and need for reorganization rather than being disgruntled and inefficient. It is also very important to know your rights and keep abreast with the policies in place regarding pregnant employees.

Pregnancy is a unique experience and is different for everyone. There will be some days you will be fantastic and other days when you can barely keep your eyes open. The changing hormones that lead to different emotions may impact your ability to concentrate, although this pretty much dependent on your personality. Some pregnant women report complete loss of interest in their jobs whilst others enjoy theirs immensely. Whatever the case may be, there are some dos and don’ts you need to be aware of to guide your journey while pregnant at the workplace.

When pregnant you MUST be handled like any other employee. It is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because of your pregnancy or pregnancy related conditions. In fact pregnancy can be treated like a temporary medical disability if complications arise during the pregnancy period.

Any type of harassment based on pregnancy is illegal at the work place. While on-off remarks won’t usually rise to a level of harassment, repeated insults or comments that create a hostile or offensive work environment are unacceptable. And the national policy on intimately suggestive harassment still applies and any such advances are against the law.

Discrimination may sometimes be difficult to prove, but keeping records that help piece together the discussions you have had with your employer and action taken against you, will help you build a case. To prove discrimination, you may also have to demonstrate that you were treated differently from other workers who have similar qualifications or performance records. Document the happenings should you feel that things are not going well.

Telling your employer that you are pregnant is one of the biggest challenges women face while working. Pregnancy will eventually start to show, so it would be advisable to notify your employer that you are pregnant. This should be done as soon you realize you are pregnant and let them know as well when you want to start your leave to enable planning. This is also important when you work in an environment that has health and safety issues.

Open up to your boss and colleagues, let them know so they are conscious about your fragile emotional state and be sensitive to your new condition. It would be wise to keep your boss updated about your health.

When applying for a new job, if you are still early on in your pregnancy and is not showing, you may choose to keep that information to yourself. This is because it may be difficult to prove that the reason you were not hired was because of your pregnancy. However, it is critical to let your new employer know you are pregnant immediately you get the job so that you may start out on a clear footing and plans may be made accordingly.

The law is also clear that an employer is not legally required to make it easier for a pregnant woman to do her job.

Pregnant employees cannot be forced to take leave while they are pregnant as long they can perform their duties. If you are sick or absent from work due to pregnancy related conditions and then recover you should not be forced to take leave until you deliver. If you are physically unable to work during the last days of pregnancy you can request your employer to take part of your maternity leave before the due date.

You need time off for your antenatal care. All pregnant employees however long or short in employment are entitled to reasonable time off work for antenatal care. It is unlawful for your employer to deny you time off for antenatal care. However please ensure you minimize time off to and schedule what is possible to outside working hours.

Your employer is however allowed to ask for evidence of your antenatal visits when giving you the time off. You will need to have your appointment card certified or produce written evidence of your visits.

You need to be aware of your health and safety the work place and be involved in the review of risk assessment of your job. Please identify any changes that are necessary to protect your unborn baby’s health. Risks may include lifting or carrying heavy loads, standing or sitting for long periods and long working hours. Please discuss with your employer removal of identified risk or assignment of suitable alternative work. If not possible you may be suspended from work on full pay as your employer finds a lasting solution to the risk. At worst case scenario, legal action may be taken.

Your employer cannot change your terms and conditions of employment while you are pregnant without leave like trying to cut hours without your permission, sudden giving you unsuitable work or treating days off sick due to pregnancy as a disciplinary issue. The terms and conditions of employment cannot be changed while you are pregnant without your permission. This will be a breach of contract.

With open communication and self-care, pregnancy at work can be pleasurable. Please remember that pregnancy is gift and it is encouraged that you try and enjoy every bit of it. You must not be torn between protecting your job and nurturing your baby, you can do both. Despite its discomfort pregnancy isn’t a ticket to slack of at work. Read up, ensure you are informed and know your rights. I wish you best of luck on your journey to soon becoming a dear mummy to a beautiful new baby.

Febian Odongo is the Human Resources Manager at Viscar Industrial Capacity and is responsible for managing the team of both in house and outsourced resources. She has a wealth of experience in the HR field and is currently expecting her third child. @phoebemoshi

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