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Pregnancy and Maternity: Accommodating Expectant and New Mothers in the Workplace

It’s important to encourage and support new mothers in the workplace, not least because it is a right protected by the Equality Act of 2010. Employers have notoriously let women down in this department for centuries, and even in the year of 2024, there are still employers getting outed for their poor approach to aiding expecting and new mothers at work – and are still shockingly bad at dealing with new fathers in the workplace.

It’s important to both employers and employees that companies create an inclusive and family-friendly work environment for new parents. We’re breaking down what employers can do to better support new mothers in the workplace.

Legal Obligations

The Equality Act 2010 is the main legal protection that new mothers in the workplace have and it’s incredibly important for employers to keep to it to adhere to regulation and avoid discrimination based on pregnancy or parental status.

The Equality Act protects a range of characteristics, including pregnant women and new mothers. It covers recruitment, employment terms and conditions, promotions, pay and benefits and dismissal. It protects expecting and new mothers in the workplace from discrimination for pregnancy, childbirth, and related reasons like breastfeeding.

Reasonable Accommodations

One of the major aspects of supporting new mothers in the workplace is to provide reasonable accommodations for the mother. This can look like anything from modified work schedules to ergonomic workstations, temporary job reassignments, and more.

You might want to have a meeting with your employee, if they approach the subject, to discuss and assess any individual needs for the employee.

Parental Leave Policies

A big sticking point for new mothers in the workplace is parental leave. In the UK, the legislation says that pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity leave.

Eligible employees can receive up to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) from their employer, which is paid at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks. For the following 33 weeks, SMP is paid at a flat rate of £184.03 per week (for the 2024/25 tax year) or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Consider the hybrid and remote working options out there to make things easier on your employee, like telecommuting or lowering hours to part-time, or even flexible work arrangements to help aid new mothers in the workplace again.

Lactation Accommodations

And, of course, there is the need for privacy after the baby arrives. If the mother is breastfeeding or pumping milk, they will need a clean, private, and secure room or space for new mothers in the workplace, provided by the employer.

Additionally, employers will need to allow reasonable break times for nursing employees, since it’s not dictated by the mother, and she can’t wait.

Support and Resources

It’s important to remember that new mothers in the workplace will need time even after the baby has arrived. Not every pregnancy goes well, and whether it went well or not might not be something they want to express to their employer. Privacy, but understanding is important. This means that there might be accommodations needed that might not occur to you, and it’s important to keep in mind that healing might take longer – physically or mentally.

Consider offering resources like on-site or virtual parenting classes, counselling services, or support groups for new parents.

Workplace Culture

On top of your own biases that might occur, it’s important to encourage a more open-minded approach to pregnant staff and team members across the company, to create a more healthy workplace environment. The role of an inclusive and supportive workplace culture is important in retaining and attracting talented employees. Encourage leadership to promote work-life balance and prioritize the well-being of all employees, including expectant and new mothers.

Conclusion

In a time where employers are consistently complaining of a skills shortage and having trouble filling new roles, it’s important that companies don’t put new and expecting mothers and fathers out the door with a bad or discriminatory approach to new mothers in the workplace. It benefits employees and employers to make this time as smooth as possible.