Pregnancy related absence

Sickness absence

Special rules apply to sickness absence which is related to a woman’s pregnancy or to her having given birth.

You should record pregnancy-related illness separately from other kinds of illness and should not count it towards someone’s total sickness record.  

You should not pay a woman who is absent for a pregnancy-related illness less than the contractual sick pay she would receive if she was absent for any other illness with a statement of fitness to work (‘fit note’). 

You must not take into account a period of absence due to pregnancy-related illness, or maternity leave, when making a decision about a woman’s employment, for example, for disciplinary purposes or if you’re selecting workers for redundancy. Treat sickness absence associated with a miscarriage as pregnancy-related illness.

For example

A worker has been off work because of pregnancy complications since early in her pregnancy. Her employer has now dismissed her in accordance with the sickness policy which allows no more than 20 weeks' continuous absence. This policy is applied regardless of sex or pregnancy and maternity. The dismissal is unfavourable treatment and would be unlawful pregnancy discrimination even if a man would be dismissed for a similar period of sickness absence, because the employer took into account the worker’s pregnancy-related sickness absence in deciding to dismiss.  

You can find out more about what to do in this situation using the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Guidance on managing new and expectant parents.  

You can read more about pay during a woman's pregnancy and maternity leave in the Equality and Human Rights Commission guide: What equality law means for you as an employer: pay and benefits.

Ante-natal care

You must give a pregnant employee time off for ante-natal care. Ante-natal care can include medical examinations, relaxation and parenting classes.

For example:

A pregnant employee has booked time off to attend a medical appointment related to her pregnancy. Her employer insists this time must be made up for through flexi-time arrangements or her pay will be reduced to reflect the time off. This is unlawful: a pregnant employee is under no obligation to make up time taken off for ante-natal appointments and an employer cannot unreasonably refuse paid time off to attend such appointments.  

The right for paid time off does not extend to the partners of pregnant women, although you could choose, as a matter of good practice, to allow someone to take annual leave or unpaid leave or to work flexibly to support their partner.
If you do allow this, make sure that you do not discriminate unlawfully in your approach.

For example:

An employer allows a man whose female partner is pregnant to take annual leave to attend ante-natal appointments with her. The employer refuses a similar request from a woman whose female partner is pregnant. This is likely to be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation. 

Good practice tip

Even if the test you use is whether the business needs of your organisation can still be met if you grant a particular person's request for time off, it is a good idea to keep a note of when requests are made, by which employee, and what your decision was.

You could then look at your and your organisation's decisions over a particular period. If you monitor your workers' protected characteristics, you could use this information to check if any particular group is more likely to have its requests turned down.

If you find it is, look again at the criteria you are using to decide which requests to allow. 

More information

Last Updated: 17 Sep 2015