A guide to maternity rights for nurses, care assistants and support workers

If you find out you’re expecting, you’ll want to know pretty quickly how being pregnant is going to affect the way you work.

In this article, we take a look at your rights while pregnant, whether you’re a nurse, support worker or care assistant working in the UK, and discuss where you can find support.

Look after yourself

It’s important to look after your physical and mental well-being when you’re pregnant, so make sure you have your self-care needs in mind from the start.

  • Get plenty of sleep where you can.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet.
  • Stay active to stay healthy.
  • Talk to friends or family for support.

These are all important to help keep you and your baby healthy through pregnancy, and knowing where to turn for emotional support can make you feel more relaxed.

Your employer has a duty of care to support pregnant employees at work, but they can only do that after you tell them the news – so we’ll talk about that next.

Tell your employer

You may be nervous or worried about telling your employer you’re pregnant, but until you do tell, you won’t be able to ask for support at work. You have to tell your employer at least 15 weeks before your baby is due at the very latest.

And if you work in a higher risk environment, you might want to consider letting your employer know early in your pregnancy to make sure you and your baby are protected. But every pregnancy is unique, your circumstances are unique, and you know what feels best for you.

Employers have a duty to support pregnant employees, conduct risk assessments and make appropriate changes if needed. If you have a good relationship with your line manager, you should be able to ask questions like:

  • How long is maternity leave?
  • What support will I get with my pregnancy?
  • What will happen when I return to work?

Your pregnancy and maternity rights at work

All employees, including nurses, care assistants and support workers, are protected against discrimination in the workplace because of pregnancy or childbirth. Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you’re self-employed or doing casual work, you don’t have the right to maternity leave, but you may still get maternity allowance and have other rights.
  • Agency workers are protected and are entitled to maternity pay. If you’ve worked 12 weeks in the same placement, you have the right to paid time off for antenatal care and health and safety protection.

You have the same rights whether you work part-time or full-time or whether your contract is fixed-term or temporary. If your employer doesn’t give you these rights, you should seek legal advice straight away.

Let’s explore your workplace rights in a bit more detail. It’s important to know that some of them apply to the period of time after you return to work:

  • Maternity leave: you can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. The first 26 weeks are called ‘ordinary maternity leave’ and the second 26 weeks are known as ‘additional maternity leave’. When you are on maternity leave, you should be entitled to either maternity pay or maternity allowance. You can start maternity leave from 11 weeks before the birth, and you must take at least 2 weeks after the birth.
  • Safe environment: your employer has to assess your working conditions and make plans to change anything that might put you or your baby at risk. If you can’t take regular breaks, are exposed to certain chemicals on shift or need to lift heavy weights, your employer should offer alternative duties or support reduced working hours as a way to keep you safe.
  • Time off for antenatal appointments: if you’re entitled to maternity leave, then you have a right to take time off for antenatal appointments recommended by your doctor or midwife. You should get your usual pay for the time you take, and you shouldn’t be asked to make the time up elsewhere.
  • Return to work: you’re entitled to return to work after maternity leave and should be offered the same job or a similar job to the one you had before, without changes to your terms and conditions.
  • Protection against discrimination: you’re protected by the Equality Act 2010, which says that it’s illegal to treat you differently or unfairly because of your pregnancy.

It’s important to know and understand your rights at work when pregnant (and when you return after the birth) so you can make sure you’re getting a fair deal.

Most of the time, employers respect the law, but you also have to be prepared to take action (like seeking help from your union, or legal advice) if this turns out not to be the case. We’ll talk more about that next.

When your rights go wrong: dealing with pregnancy discrimination

According to campaigning group Pregnant Then Screwed, 54,000 women each year lose their jobs after getting pregnant. They estimate that 390,000 working mums experience negative and possibly discriminatory treatment each year at work.

If you’re dismissed or treated unfairly after telling your employer about your pregnancy, or because you take maternity leave or exercise your maternity rights at work when pregnant, then you could be dealing with discrimination.

Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Are you finding it hard to access all the maternity rights we mentioned above?
  • Are managers or colleagues making negative comments because of your pregnancy?
  • Are you being treated poorly after asking about pregnancy or maternity rights?

If you find yourself in this situation, you should talk to your union rep, or seek legal advice, as soon as possible. There are time limits on how long you have to make a claim, so if you wait until your return to work you may run out of time.

If you don’t want to take action straight away, you could seek mediation with your employer to see if you can come to an agreement. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your employer, you could try to negotiate a settlement to leave your role and not return.

Get more information and explore your actions with the help of Maternity Action, who can help with free legal advice.

Returning to work and breastfeeding

Once you’re back at work, you can use other maternity rights to help you adapt to family life.

If you’re breastfeeding, the health and safety protection that applied when you were pregnant will still protect you now. Your employer should do a risk assessment when you return to work to make sure you can breastfeed or pump safely.

After the risk assessment, you might get shorter shifts, more frequent breaks to express your milk and safely store it, and access to washing facilities. If these accommodations aren’t possible, your line manager should offer you alternative work that fits around your breastfeeding needs without loss to pay and conditions.

As an agency worker, you should have access to the same facilities that permanent employees use. If your boss or colleagues don’t support you when you’re back at work and breastfeeding, you may have a claim for sex discrimination, again based on the Equality Act 2010.

Pregnancy and maternity support at Florence

At Florence, we make the health and well-being of our care professionals a priority – especially during pregnancy. We understand the unique challenges and concerns that come with pregnancy, which is why we offer three pregnancy risk assessments.

  • One of our regional nurses will conduct a pregnancy risk assessment during each trimester. These assessments cover potential risks to make sure you’re working in a safe and healthy environment.
  • We also provide advice on how to manage your work during pregnancy, including information about different types of shifts and shift patterns.
  • Once the assessment is done, you’ll get a copy to take to each shift. If shifts that suit your needs better become available, we can help you find and book them.

Because we’re a staffing solution, we don’t provide maternity pay for our care professionals. However, we can give you financial advice and show you how to apply for statutory maternity pay.

When the time comes to take your maternity leave, we’ll let care homes and hospitals that work with you know why you can’t accept shifts. When you’re ready to start picking up shifts again, you might need to refresh your training.

If you have any questions or concerns about returning to work, please get in touch with us. We’ll arrange a meeting with one of our nurses to help you settle back in.

Need extra help and support?

  1. Pregnancy and Birth: government information on working, time off and financial support.
  2. Pregnant workers and new mothers: your health and safety: everything your employer and you need to consider, from the Health and Safety Executive.
  3. Pregnant at Work 2023 from campaigning charity Maternity in Action, including where to go for free advice.
  4. Pregnant Then Screwed provide information and support on your rights, with advice, mentoring and career support if things go wrong.
  5. Having a family toolkit from the Royal College of Nursing answers questions on pregnancy, maternity leave and pay in healthcare.
  6. Rights while you’re pregnant at work from Citizens Advice outlines your rights at work when pregnant and where you can get help.
  7. Your rights as an agency worker on gov.uk gets into the specific rights of agency workers.
  8. Maternity and parental rights for agency workers from Maternity in Action covers maternity and parental rights for agency workers or agency ‘temps’.
  9. Agency workers: rights at work when having a baby from Working Families has lots of information on employment status and pregnancy.
  10. What benefits can I claim when I’m pregnant or have a baby? from the MoneyHelper site talks about available benefits and entitlements when you’re pregnant or have a baby.

Finding flexible shifts with Florence 

Whether you’re reducing your hours because you’re feeling tired while pregnant, working while continuing to breastfeed, or fitting shifts in with childcare hours after your baby’s born, working with Florence could help you find a better work-life balance.

With Florence, you get:

  • An app to find and book shifts near you.
  • Excellent hourly rates in care homes and hospitals.
  • The choice to receive up to 60% of your pay after your shift ends.
  • Free training with Florence Academy.
  • 24/7 support from a friendly team.

If you’re a pregnant care professional or a new parent, we offer a simple and straightforward way to manage your working life.

Florence can help you find flexible shifts near you, take essential training courses and improve your work-life balance. Find out more and sign up today.

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