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Being pregnant at work – a call to action


What our members are saying 

” I was told that I would face disciplinary for leaving my class to be sick! ”

” My line manager refused to adapt my duties or timetable.”

” I had to use my PPA time for antenatal appointments. ”

” My employer was so threatening and hostile that I was signed off with anxiety.”


The education workforce is a predominantly female sector. Seventy-six per cent of NEU members are women. The NEU recognises the societal biases and expectations that all women face, whatever their personal circumstances, whatever their choices.

The NEU’s survey of women’s experience of pregnancy, maternity and returning to work highlights unfair, unsafe and unlawful treatment of pregnant women working in education.

Women’s rights – to privacy and dignity at work, to individual risk assessments, safe and fair working arrangements, more frequent rest breaks and a clean private space to rest, to time off for antenatal appointments – are frequently disregarded. Many pregnant teachers and support staff are subjected to humiliating and unlawful treatment at work.

Our survey illustrates that poor treatment is not universal, however. Some women report that their line managers and education leaders were “extremely supportive” “flexible and accommodating” “understanding and supportive”, putting their health and safety first and adjusting working arrangements proactively to accommodate the pregnant woman’s needs.

To highlight the experiences of pregnant women in the education sector and to call for action on their rights at work, the NEU is delighted to be working with Maternity Action. Maternity Action is the UK’s maternity rights charity dedicated to promoting, protecting and enhancing the rights of all pregnant women, new mothers and their families to employment, social security and health care.

Our aim in this call to action is to highlight injustice, celebrate value and demand better for pregnant women at work.

We want to help retain teachers and support staff in education. We value pregnant women at work.

Our recommendations

Government - changes needed

  • Assist employers with the cost of placing pregnant women on paid maternity suspension.
  • Legislate for women whose earnings drop during the statutory maternity pay calculation period due to sick leave or unpaid leave, to have their eligibility for statutory maternity pay determined by reference to their normal salary.
  • Extend day one rights for workers and agency workers to paid time off to attend antenatal care; to have an individual risk assessment; and to maternity suspension, if required.
  • Set statutory sick pay as a day one entitlement, increase it to a reasonable level and extend it to those currently earning below the lower earnings limit.
  • Increase the flat rate of statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, statutory shared parental pay and other statutory parental payments to at least the equivalent of 35 hours on the national living wage.
  • Extend time frames for pregnant women and new mothers to make an employment tribunal claim to six months.
  • Improve retention of experienced women in the education sector – raise awareness of the link between unacceptable, inflexible working conditions and the attrition of women from the education sector.

Employers – changes needed

  • Adopt the NEU model policy, Supporting pregnant women at work.
  • Respect pregnant women’s confidentiality – don’t disclose private information without her express consent and only when necessary, eg for health and safety reasons.
  • Don’t lower a woman’s status or downgrade or remove her responsibilities on grounds that she is pregnant – this could be pregnancy discrimination.
  • Carry out an individual risk assessment for every woman as soon as she gives notice of her pregnancy.
  • Arrange safe work or suitable alternative work while arranging a risk assessment and if this is not possible, treat the woman as suspended on full pay until the employer is able to carry out a risk assessment and make adjustments.
  • If the risk assessment reveals a risk, do all that is reasonable to remove it or prevent the woman’s exposure to it. Provide information on the risks and what action has been take.
  • Action any necessary temporary alterations to working conditions or hours of work.
  • Record any pregnancy-related sickness absence separately from other sick leave, so that pregnancy-related sickness absence is not used as a reason for disciplinary action, dismissal or redundancy. It is automatic unfair dismissal and pregnancy discrimination to dismiss a woman for a reason connected to her pregnancy.
  • Actively encourage and enable women to attend antenatal appointments and take their paid time off, including for reasonable travel and waiting time.
  • Make sure that women have access to suitable rest facilities and take steps to support women experiencing pregnancy-related sickness, particularly those with severe sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum.
  • Recognise that the prevalence of domestic abuse often increases during pregnancy and ensure that any local policies recognise this fact and that pregnant women are aware of the support available.

A call to action

Employers are failing to meet even the basic rights of pregnant women at work. Women have had their privacy breached, they have been refused individual risk assessments, prevented from taking time off to attend antenatal appointments, forced to work in dangerous conditions and denied a safe, clean, private space to rest.

Pregnant women’s health, safety, welfare and dignity are under threat.

We can protect these rights. Many employers can and do support pregnant women at work. The NEU is calling on all employers to uphold pregnant women’s rights at work. We want women to control who knows about her pregnancy and when, we want to see timely risk assessments and reviews, appropriate adjustments to working conditions, paid time off for antenatal appointments and suitable rest facilities.

What can reps do?

NEU reps have a vital role to play in protecting pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace.

Many women have low awareness of their rights at work and may take what an employer tells them at face value, thus losing out on entitlements and protections during their pregnancy. Here are some of the ways in which you can support your members.

  1. Protect their confidentiality if they do not want colleagues to know about their pregnancy yet and remind any employer/ manager who is aware of the pregnancy not to disclose it without express permission.
  2. Make sure that your members have access to up-to-date information about their maternity rights and any local maternity policies. You can approach human resources (HR) for this information thus avoiding the need for the woman to reveal that she is pregnant.
  3. Try to organise regular catch- ups with your member during her pregnancy to make sure that her health and safety is being protected and that she is not experiencing pregnancy

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Pregnant woman working from home on laptop

Being pregnant at work

The NEU pregnant women at work resources have been developed to enable members and reps to demand better and work in unison to assert the rights at work of pregnant teachers and support staff.

Find out more
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