Finding out that you are pregnant can be one of the most amazing discoveries of your life. There may be a temptation to shout it from the rooftops. The feeling that you are bursting with happiness may be difficult to suppress, but it is common for women not to want to share their news too soon. Inherent feelings of caution and apprehension surrounding the early stages of pregnancy are perfectly normal reactions.
Secondary considerations around the health and wellbeing of your unborn baby, the emotional and physical changes that a woman invariably goes through and the overwhelming reaction from close friends and family may all take time to come to terms with.
Throw into the mix that you are going to need to tell your employer the news, having to take time away from work and the anxiety that this can bring, can be too much to deal with straight away.
What do I need to do and when?
The good news is that there is no obligation to share the news immediately. In fact, there is no legal requirement for you to notify your employer that you are pregnant any earlier than the 15th week prior to the due date (unless it isn’t reasonably practicable to do so). This usually means that you will have been pregnant for around 6 months, by which stage any risks associated with the early stages of any pregnancy are more likely to have reduced.
By the end of that week though, you are required by law to tell your employer that you are pregnant to (technically) entitle you to be able to take maternity leave. I say technically because it would be risky, potentially discriminatory, for an employer to deny maternity leave on the basis of a late notification.
Notification does not need to be in writing but this is advisable, both for the purposes of proving knowledge (explained later) and for the trigger of health and safety obligations on the employer.
How am I protected and what are the risks?
The law protects women who are pregnant from dismissal, discrimination or detriment because of their pregnancy, or any pregnancy-related illness. Just because something is unlawful though, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen in reality, or mean that having concerns about unlawful treatment is irrational. There is often a fear that having time away from the business might result in a woman losing her job, being forgotten, being excluded or replaced or being subjected to harassment by colleagues.
It can, therefore, be about finding a balance.
Notifying an employer early facilitates the opportunity for the employer to provide proper risk assessments of your working environment and paid time off for ante-natal appointments, both of which they are required to do. It also provides context, understanding and knowledge of pregnancy-related sickness absence, of which you are also protected from suffering any unfavourable treatment.
Delaying informing an employer, however, delays potential, unlawful discrimination, around which much anxiety is created. The right not to be treated unfavourably starts once you become pregnant and continues until the end of maternity leave but this doesn’t always prevent employers who are intent on preparing for the change to do so unlawfully, even if perhaps unintentionally.
However, it’s important to know that protection against discrimination is only effective if an employer knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that you are pregnant. It might be discriminatory to treat you less favourably because your employer perceives you to be pregnant, which would be unlawful, but having actual knowledge of a pregnancy makes it harder for your employer to disprove pregnancy-related discrimination where there is unfavourable treatment and the presumption is that it is pregnancy related.
What other obligations are there?
You need to tell your employer that you intend to start maternity leave and the expected due date by the end of the 15th week before your due date, but often an employer would want to know sooner. Once notified, within 28 days, your employer must write to you to confirm the start and end dates of your maternity leave (although these can be changed by giving notice). They may ask for evidence to be provided of the pregnancy following the first ante-natal appoint and this usually comes in the form of a MAT B1 form, provided by a doctor or midwife. The commencement of ordinary maternity leave cannot be earlier than the 11th week before the expected due date.
The MAT B1 form is usually issued 20 weeks before the estimated due date and an employer can ask to be provided with a copy, which will confirm the expected due date. In fact, in order to benefit from statutory maternity pay, the employer must be given a copy of the MAT B1 form.
There is no obligation to return to work after maternity leave, but there is a right to take maternity leave of up to 52 weeks and to return to the same role, a right to statutory maternity pay (up to 39 weeks’ pay), a right to request flexible working upon return to work and a right not to be subjected to unlawful treatment during pregnancy, or as a result of breastfeeding.
The answer then?
The decision should be made by you, although if you anticipate facing difficulties with your employer, you should certainly seek legal advice.
Early disclosure usually means better planning and preparation. It also means your employer has knowledge which gives you stronger legal protection.
With the high levels of stress and uncertainty that inevitably comes with any pregnancy, uncertainties around job security should not add to them or detract from your pregnancy. Considered, professional communication about what, when and how to share your news with your employer is likely to make the process less daunting and help you to focus instead on the experience of being pregnant and the excitement of planning for a new addition to your family.
If you are not sure and would like further advice on your legal position or you have experienced issues with your employer you can contact our specialist employment solicitors on 0808 252 5231 or request one of the team to call you back online.