Keeping healthy and being safe at work is critical for expectant mothers. As an employer there are a number of legal and ethical responsibilities to ensuring your pregnant employees are kept safe before they go on maternity leave. Some of these are done in collaboration with your employees, others are solely the responsibility of the organisation.
Here are two key areas to start with…
1) Collaborate and keep communication open
Consider and discuss with your pregnant employee about what needs to change or be accommodated as a result of her pregnancy. Whilst many expectant mothers can carry on and work in the same capacity as they did previously, it is important to acknowledge and accept that some things may need to be adjusted or stopped altogether. This may include making changes to job duties, hours of work, the use of work equipment, travel arrangements or the work environment itself.
Changes may be necessary particularly if the employee’s work involves any of the following:
- Long travel times
- Habitual overtime hours
- Heavy lifting
- Climbing a lot of stairs
- Hot environments
- Cleaning agents
- Any other chemicals
A pregnant worker’s needs may change throughout her pregnancy so assess their situation regularly. Open communication and collaboration with all your employees (not just your working mum-to-be) will help to keep business running smoothly and hopefully all parties happy with any changes that need to be made.
If your organisation is unsure how the job or workplace may impact on the pregnancy, it is advisable to seek qualified advice from a doctor.
2) Protect employees from pregnancy discrimination
1 in 5 Australian women feel they experienced discrimination while pregnant according to the 2011 ABS Pregnancy and Employment Transitions Survey.
Pregnant workers have the right to work or continue to work during and following their pregnancy and should be treated the same as other employees except in the circumstance where they have requested a change to working conditions, often in light of health and safety issues. Their work environment should be free from discrimination and harassment and as an employer you are responsible to protect this right.
There are a number of pieces of legislation that make any such discrimination unlawful – The Workplace Relations Act 1996, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as well as state-based anti-discrimination, equal opportunity and workplace relations laws.
You can find out more about your obligations on the Fair Work Australia website.