Kerry Hudson: Employers need to be informed of pregnancies while staff are on furlough

Women on furlough could jeopardise their employee rights if they fail to tell their employers that they are pregnant.

Expectant mothers who are on furlough may be tempted not to notify their employers of their pregnancy, possibly because they think they may receive more money on furlough, or because of fears they will be discriminated against if their employer decides to make staff redundant. They may also mistakenly believe they do not have to tell their employers they are pregnant.

However, pregnant employees have several safeguards under three pieces of legislation. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against employees because of the “protected characteristic” of pregnancy and maternity during the “protected period”. The Employment Rights Act 1996 sets out rights to health and safety, time off for antenatal care, maternity leave and unfair dismissal, and the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 sets out a woman’s entitlement to maternity leave and the notification requirements.

Legally, employees are obliged to notify their employer they are pregnant 15 weeks before their due date. At this point, the employee can tell their employer when they wish to stop work and the day they want their statutory maternity leave to start.

Once the employer is informed, the employee is then protected against unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy-related discrimination. If informing an employer by the deadline is not possible for reasons such as the employee being unaware of their pregnancy, then the employer must be informed as soon as possible. Once they are aware, an employer will be required to carry out a workplace assessment to ensure the workplace provides a safe environment when the pregnant employee returns from furlough.

Employees who tell an employer about their pregnancy are actually more protected than their co-workers. Under current legislation, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone who is pregnant. So by failing to inform an employer of a pregnancy, employees are doing themselves a huge disservice as they’re not only relinquishing their right to be protected under the legislation but may also be at risk of not being able to access all their entitlements.

If anything, an employee who is pregnant has enhanced rights when it comes to selection criteria for redundancy.

Kerry Hudson is head of employment at Brindley, Twist, Tafft and James