How can employers best manage pregnancy in the workplace? Should organisations be aware of any legal obligations? Employers commonly ask us about the best way to support pregnant employees in the workplace. Below, we answer some of their most frequently asked questions and our recommended strategies for managing pregnancy at work according to law.

What Should I Do If I Suspect My Employee is Pregnant?

It is best practice not to ask an employee if they are pregnant but to wait for the employee to notify you themselves. However, the exception to this is when you have workplace health and safety concerns for an employee. In this case, you should consider asking the employee in a sensitive and confidential way so that you can make necessary adjustments to their role.

It is also important to remember that your employee cannot be disadvantaged or treated less favourably than other employees under the anti-discrimination law. For example, you cannot decide to pay the pregnant employee less upon a pay review because of their pregnancy.

Does an Employee Have to Tell Me About Their Pregnancy?

There is no general obligation for an employee to notify you about their pregnancy. However, it is in their best interests for an employee to tell you about their pregnancy when there are health and safety reasons to do so.

You should be proactive about providing any health and safety information to all your employees, and not just those who you know to be pregnant. This proactivity will encourage employees to notify you of their pregnancy or planned pregnancy which will assist you to manage the risk.

What Changes Do I Need to Make For a Pregnant Employee?

Any changes you introduce should try and accommodate for the physical effects of pregnancy. You could consider introducing:

  • More breaks;
  • Different working hours; and
  • Closer car parking spaces.

It is important to remember that even if you do not intend to discriminate against a pregnant employee, it could still be considered discriminatory. You should consider all reasonable changes and be prepared to discuss and negotiate these changes to find solutions that work best for the individual.

What If a Job is Not Safe For a Pregnant Employee?

Pregnant employees should stop or refuse to work when continuing would expose them to a serious risk to their health and safety. In this scenario, employees are entitled to transfer into a “safe job” if it is unsafe to continue with their usual job because of their pregnancy.

It is important to remember that if an employer transfers an employee, they will still be entitled to the same pay rate, hours of work and other NES entitlements. An employee can also take “no safe job” leave if there is no “safe job” available. This leave would be paid or unpaid depending on whether an employee is entitled to unpaid parental leave under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

Can I Hire Another Employee to Replace My Pregnant Employee?

It is advisable to follow the Fair Work Act when replacing your pregnant employee while they are on parental leave.

It requires you to notify the replacement employee of the following:

  • Their role is temporary;
  • The pregnant employee has the right to return to their previous position when they return to work; and
  • The pregnant employee and yourself as the employer have the right to cancel or end the parental leave early in certain circumstances.

It is important to make the first point clear throughout the hiring process with the replacement employee so that the process is easier when the pregnant employee returns to work.

Strategies for Managing Pregnancy at Work

While there are some legal obligations that you must comply with as an employer, you may want to consider taking these a step further by implementing the following strategies:

  • Ensure you actively support pregnant employees by discussing issues that may be relevant such as work arrangements, pregnancy-related illness and workplace safety;
  • Ensure you provide clear and transparent policies in your employee handbook on the rights and entitlements of pregnant employees as well as who they should contact for support while at work and on leave;
  • Ensure you provide training for all of your staff to encourage understanding and minimise bias when a pregnant employee is transferred to a “safe job” or provided with flexible working arrangements;
  • Ensure you check in with the employee while they are on leave to see how they are finding the level of engagement and continue to invite the employee to workplace training or functions;
  • Ensure you are also discussing their career plans and opportunities which are available when they return to work; and
  • Ensure you make a note of when the employee is returning to work to ensure a smooth transition back into the workplace.

The benefits of implementing these strategies may include the following:

  • Increased efficiency;
  • Reduced absenteeism;
  • Reduced turnover; and
  • Increased job satisfaction.

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You can read more about how to support working parents in our next article. Until then, if you require assistance on the best way to support pregnant employees in your workplace or if you need your Employee Handbook updated, get in touch with our employment lawyers by leaving us a message below or calling 1300 544 755.

Rachel Amiri

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