Pregnant? You have certain legal rights in the workplace

As a working mom-to-be, you may have questions about the risks as well as your rights at the office. We give you some answers…

 Long periods spent on your feet during your pregnancy can cause problems such as varicose veins and backache.

If you’re pregnant and working, you may be curious to know if you are entitled to certain rights in the office. We take a look at the top questions expecting moms have when it comes to pregnancy and work.

Could my job be putting me and my unborn baby at risk?

Some types of work present more risks than others, and your employer must make the necessary checks to ensure your safety. You’re entitled to change your working conditions or hours to avoid any risk that remains. If this isn’t practical, your employer must offer you a suitable alternative job. If they can’t, they have to suspend you on full pay. The sorts of conditions that could cause a problem range from working with dangerous chemicals, which could affect your baby, to needing a seat if your job usually involves standing for a long time. Long periods spent on your feet can cause problems such as varicose veins and backache.

How much sick leave am I entitled to when pregnant?

A worker who has been employed for more than six months is entitled to six weeks of sick leave over a three-year period. If the employee has used up this leave, she will have to take unpaid leave. These workers can visit their nearest Department of Labour office and apply for sick benefits remuneration under the UIF. Their doctor will have to give them a certificate, which they must present at the office. Sick leave benefits will, however, differ from employer to employer, so please check with your human resources department.

I sit for hours behind a desk. Is this safe?

Sitting for long periods can exacerbate problems such as varicose veins and lower back pain. The key is to keep as mobile as possible, so swap from sitting to standing often. Whenever you’re sitting down, rotate your ankles, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, to keep the circulation going. At break times, see if you can find somewhere relatively private where you can relieve backache using a movement known as ‘the cat’. This involves getting down on all fours with your knees hip-width apart and your arms shoulder-width apart. Tuck your head into your chest as you curve your back upwards like a cat stretching. Breathe freely. Then slowly reverse the movement by looking up to the ceiling and dipping your back into a ‘U’ shape. Repeat gently until your back feels looser.

I work at a deli counter. Could this be harmful?

It’s best to avoid eating certain foods while you’re pregnant, to protect your baby from infection and help you to avoid food poisoning. Although the risk from just handling foods is tiny, it’s still best to take extra precautions at work, so you don’t ingest anything potentially harmful while handling these foods. Wear polythene gloves (which is normal hygiene in food shops), and change them often. “There’s a very small chance of contracting toxoplasmosis if you are eating raw meats, so steer clear of Parma ham and prosciutto,” says Fiona Ford, research dietician at the Centre for Pregnancy Nutrition at Sheffield University in the UK.

Am I at any particular risk if I work with animals?

Any dangers will depend on the type of work you are doing, so you should let your boss know you’re pregnant to enable him or her to carry out a risk assessment. The greatest hazard to pregnant women working with animals is from toxoplasmosis, a disease that can have a devastating effect on unborn babies. It’s usually picked up from cat faeces, although there’s a tiny risk associated with raw meat. So, avoid working with cats altogether, or at least for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. If this is impractical, ensure that you wear surgical gloves at all times and that they’re intact – you should do this no matter what animals you’re handling.

Will complaining about my working conditions get me fired?

It’s illegal for your employers to discriminate against you because of your pregnancy. This doesn’t mean that you couldn’t lose your job through misconduct, but if you’re dismissed while pregnant you’re entitled to a written statement of the reasons, which can’t include anything to do with your pregnancy. Employers who break this regulation may have to face an employment tribunal, and may face paying out hefty damages.

Am I allowed more time off for check-ups?

You’re entitled to fully-paid, reasonable time to attend all your antenatal appointments. Your employer can ask for proof of your appointments, and you may need a letter from your GP or midwife stating that parenting and relaxation classes are also a part of antenatal care.