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Pregnancy sickness

Sickness during pregnancy is a common condition. According to the NHS1, about 8 out of every 10 pregnant women feel sick (nausea), are sick (vomiting) or both during pregnancy.


In most cases, it is temporary. Pregnancy sickness usually starts around weeks 5 or 6 and improves or stops completely by around weeks 16 to 20 for most women.

Pregnancy sickness doesn’t just happen in the morning. It can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, weight loss, and if not managed properly it can lead to stress and anxiety.

One to three out of 100 women will experience extreme pregnancy sickness - known as hyperemesis gravidarum - a severe condition which requires medical treatment.

Pregnancy sickness impacts on different women in different ways. It is nevertheless unpleasant, and it can be traumatising for a woman to experience this at work especially in front of her class.

Your rights

If you need to disclose your pregnancy due to sickness, you are fully within your rights to ask that the knowledge of your pregnancy is kept confidential and told only to those who need to know for health and safety purposes.

The frequency and scale of your pregnancy sickness should be taken into account as part of your individual risk assessment as severe sickness could pose a risk to you or your baby.

As an expectant mother, you are entitled to rest facilities under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, whether you are an employee or an agency worker. Rest facilities for a pregnant woman should be close to toilets and include a bed or sofa so that she can lie down2.

We expect employers and line managers to foster a supportive work environment for pregnant women. A good employer will show empathy and understanding and will implement your combined rights to sick leave and maternity leave.

If you are too ill to work, your normal sickness absence procedure will apply. You should be able to take the right amount of time off sick, particularly if you have needed medical treatment. You should be paid the contractual sick pay you would have received had you not been absent for a pregnancy- related reason.

It is not permissible to count pregnancy-related absences during your pregnancy for the purposes of attendance management. Detrimental treatment of you on grounds of your pregnancy related sickness, would be unlawful. Also, absences relating to your pregnancy should not be used to your detriment to deny pay progression or promotion.

If you are off sick for a pregnancy-related reason in the last four weeks of pregnancy, your maternity leave and pay will start automatically on the day after your first day of sickness absence in the four- week period.

Your actions

  • Familiarise yourself with your terms and conditions – they should be listed in your letter of appointment. Seek out the maternity and sickness absence policies that apply in your school or college - your NEU workplace rep or school office should be able to help you locate them.
  • Use and share the practical pack of NEU Being pregnant at work resources. Advocate for your school to adopt the NEU model policy – to improve the working conditions of other pregnant women at work. Speak to your colleagues about supporting the improvements to your policies and school culture around maternity matters in your school.
  • If you are not feeling well in the early stages of your pregnancy and need to take sick leave, you may want to let your employer know that you are pregnant so that any pregnancy-related sick leave is counted separately as a pregnancy-related absence. You can adapt our sample letter to disclose your pregnancy, request confidentiality and give notice of your sickness absence. Attach the checklist for leaders on supporting pregnant women at work, or you can ask your NEU rep to bring the checklist to the attention of your employer/headteacher.
  • If you are calling in sick, you must follow your normal sickness procedure and provide fit notes as required. If your absence is pregnancy-related make sure your GP/midwife puts it on your fit note.
  • Ask for any severe pregnancy sickness to be taken into account as part of your individual pregnancy risk assessment.
  • Consider speaking to your NEU rep and other women who have been pregnant at work for tips and advice. Chatting with other women at work to find out how they dealt with their symptoms of pregnancy sickness in school or college can help you navigate protecting your rights at work. Remember no pregnancy is the same, so don’t feel disheartened if your symptoms are worse or different from any previous pregnancy or your colleagues’ pregnancies.
  • Ask for a space and time to rest, access to cooled drinking water and other adjustments to keep your sickness at bay.
  •  Some more tips to alleviate sickness at work include:
    - Sipping cooled water regularly -
    -Snacking regularly in between meals, so you don’t get too hungry
    - Moving and walking around the room
    - Accessing fresh air by opening a window or taking opportunities to walk outside.~
  • Ask your NEU rep for support if your employer or agency does not undertake a risk assessment or put in place the facilities or arrangements that you need to protect your health and safety as an expectant mother. Ask for your arrangements to be reviewed if your needs change, for example if you need a change to your working arrangements or some cover to allow you to rest or recover from a bout of vomiting at work.
  • If you need further advice about your rights at work, contact the NEU Adviceline on 0345 811 8111, or email us at [email protected].
Pregnant woman working from home on laptop

Being pregnant at work

Poor treatment of expectant mothers is not universal in our schools and colleges – we want to see more measures to support and accommodate pregnant women working in the education sector.

Find out more
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