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10 things you should NEVER say to a pregnant employee

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1. “Are you pregnant, or have you just put on a bit of weight?”

Avoid the awkward water-cooler moment, plus the risk of bullying, harassment and injury to feelings. It is in the best interest of the employee to notify you of their pregnancy in order for them to receive their legal entitlements. Once an employee notifies you, make sure you carry out a risk assessment to help you both plan ahead.

2. “Do you think you’ll have any more children after this one?”

Discrimination alert! Whatever answer the employee gives can potentially be used against them in the future. For example, if a more senior role opens and they are turned down in favour of another employee.

3. “If I knew you were pregnant, I wouldn’t have given you the job”

Once again, the discrimination alarm has sounded. Whether the employee is new or not, you cannot discriminate against a candidate due to pregnancy (not to mention the potential bullying and harassment aspects!).

4. “Do you expect everyone else to cover your workload while you’re on maternity leave?”

Tread very carefully. You should discuss this with the employee and perhaps work this out between you to reach the best arrangement – but don’t bully or intimidate the employee by making them feel like an inconvenience.

5. “You can’t keep having time off work. Why can’t you make the appointment to see the midwife after your contracted working hours?”

Each employee has a statutory entitlement to attend ante natal appointments during working hours without fear of harassment and criticism.

6. “Are you sure you should be doing that in your condition?”

Having a baby doesn’t necessarily mean the employee can’t continue doing the job they have been trained to do. Wrapping them up in cotton wool or singling them out from other employees will not do you any favours. Carry out a risk assessment and consult with the employee about any concerns.

7. “So, when are you going to come back to work?”

You can have a general discussion about this to help you plan ahead, but don’t pin the employee down to definite dates or hound them while on maternity leave. After all, they are entitled to additional maternity leave should they wish. They are also entitled to up to ten “keeping-in-touch days” during their maternity leave.

8. “Don’t count on your job being kept open for you”

You can’t expect the finance manager to return as the cleaner. The employee has a right to return to work on no less favourable terms, to a similar job so far as reasonable. Also, consider flexible working conditions if the employee make an application for this.

9. “I’m not going to pay you while your on maternity leave. It’s not like you’re going to be doing any work for the company”

This will go down like a lead balloon and risk a claim being made. The employee is entitled to six weeks at 90 per cent of their salary and then up to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) while on maternity leave.

10. “You can’t take any annual leave before you have the baby”

You wouldn’t ask an employee who is on long-term sick leave not to take holiday due to absence from the office, so don’t do it to pregnant employees. You need to check their contractual entitlement. Perhaps suggest taking annual leave before or at the end of their maternity leave – possibly carrying over to the next holiday year if appropriate and agreed.

Read more articles from this series.

Next week: 10 things you should NEVER say to an intern.

Alexis Asher is an employment solicitor at Hertfordshire-based SA Law.

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