Many myths have grown up around the legal rights of those who are pregnant and on maternity leave, it can be hard to sort the facts from the fiction. In this article we answer some of the most common questions we hear on this subject to give you the straightforward facts about employment law so that you can avoid any misconceptions in the workplace!
Does a company have a right to know I’m pregnant if I’m applying for a job?
In a word, no. There’s no legal requirement for you to inform a potential employer that you’re pregnant when you go for an interview with them.
In the past, some employers have dismissed new employees upon finding out they were pregnant, and tried to argue in court that not disclosing the pregnancy at interview showed a lack of integrity. But this argument has been firmly rejected by courts and tribunals.
The bottom line is, employers are not allowed to discriminate against you on the basis of your pregnancy and if you’re dismissed for any reason related to your pregnancy, you can bring an unfair dismissal claim, regardless of whether you’ve been employed by the company for five years or five days.
Is it okay for a potential employer to ask me in an interview if I plan to have children?
Definitely not! Employers are not allowed to ask you about your family plans, including whether you already have children or whether you intend to.
If you’ve been asked this and ultimately didn’t get the job, this could be evidence of a discriminatory motive behind the employer’s selection process.
I heard I can’t be made redundant if I’m pregnant or on maternity leave. Is that true?
It’s not true. In fact, it’s one of the most common misconceptions around pregnancy and employment law.
When there is a genuine redundancy situation and you’re selected for redundancy fair and square, based on objective criteria applied to everyone else under consideration, then your employment can be terminated legally.
Saying that, the pregnancy discrimination laws still apply here. So if the redundancy selection criteria has taken into account anything connected to your pregnancy (including a pregnancy-related illness), then this could indicate you have been unfairly selected for dismissal .
Do I get preferential treatment when it comes to being offered an alternative role?
Where employees are being offered other suitable vacancies to avoid redundancy, then those who are on maternity leave (or another type of statutory parental leave) must be given preferential treatment and considered first in line. This is one of the very few examples of lawful positive discrimination under English law.
However, this doesn’t apply if you’re pregnant and still working – only if you’ve already started your maternity leave.
Is my employer allowed to contact me while I’m on maternity leave?
Yes, the law makes it clear that they can and indeed they should keep in contact while you’re off. If they don’t, it could be considered sex discrimination if you miss out on hearing about internal vacancies or promotions or other business related announcements.
But it’s a good idea to talk to your employer about what level of contact is best for you and how you would like to receive updates. For example, do you want essential emails only (updates on pay rises, bonuses, reorganisations, etc.) or would you like to hear about the annual summer party, too?
What if my employer likes my maternity cover better? Can they move me to a different job when I return?
No, they can’t. You have the right to return to the same job, so your employer must keep your job open for you.
There is one exception, and that’s where it is no longer reasonably practical to give you your job back – for instance, if the job no longer exists. But if that happens, the company has to give you another suitable job.
How can we help you?
If you would like to know more about your employment rights during pregnancy and while on maternity leave, talk to our employment law specialists today. We’ll help you figure out the best way forward for you.