How can you support pregnant employees?

How can you support pregnant employees?

By Gaby Grammeno on 8 February 2018 How can we ensure a pregnant employee remains safe and well at work?

Q We’re a new company and we undertake work that can be quite psycho-socially stressful (as opposed to physically stressful) for our employees. We're delighted that one of our senior staff, who is in her late 30s, is pregnant with her first child.

As it is a very stressful environment, we're wondering what we can do, as an employer, to support her in her work and keep her safe?

A As an employer, your readiness to be supportive to a pregnant employee and your concern for her wellbeing at work will go a long way towards ensuring positive outcomes for the business, your pregnant staff member and her child.

It is generally recommended that once an employer has been notified of a pregnancy, if there are any concerns for the pregnant staff member’s health or safety at work, the employer should discuss these concerns with the employee. She will have her own views about what she will, and will not, be able to manage. Of course, these may change over time, for example, if she develops ante-natal complications.

It is important to remember that there is an extremely wide natural variation in the ease or difficulty of an individual’s experience of pregnancy. For example, some women experience nausea more or less constantly for seven months or so, while others are hardly sick at all. For this reason, employers should not jump to conclusions about what a woman can and cannot manage during her pregnancy.
This applies to both WHS considerations and competence.

In a work environment that is psychologically and socially stressful, some individuals are more apt than others at maintaining their inner equanimity. These qualities tend to be personal and are not necessarily affected by pregnancy, but if a woman feels ill and uncomfortable, she may have a lower-than-usual threshold for fatigue.

A staff member expecting her first child in her late 30s will probably be described by the medical profession as an ‘elderly primigravida’, that is, a woman of 35 or older who is pregnant for the first time.  But of course she is not ‘elderly’ in the commonly understood sense of the word. Personal and lifestyle factors affecting her degree of physical fitness are likely be a major influence in determining her ability to maintain good health for the duration of the pregnancy.

Supporting the pregnant employee

Employers need to do what is reasonably practicable to fulfil their duty of care towards employees, pregnant or not. To support your pregnant staff member and keep her safe, start by maintaining contact with her and talking with her about what support she might need.

Such contact may be completely informal, depending on the workplace culture and circumstances. For example, the channels of communication can be kept open with an occasional enquiry as to whether everything’s still OK. There is no need to treat her as if she’s ill, unless she actually is ill. Excessive solicitude can be almost as inappropriate as any automatic assumption that her condition will render her incompetent.

Regardless of the particular circumstances, an employer should reassure an employee that she will not be dismissed or discriminated against due to her pregnancy. Federal discrimination laws make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy.

In addition, employers should ensure they are aware of an employee’s entitlement to transfer to a safe job, in the event that she is fit for work but it’s not advisable for her to continue in her present position, either due to pregnancy-related illness or to work health and safety risks.

If there is no appropriate safe job for a pregnant staff member, she may be entitled to paid ‘no safe job’ leave. Whatever the circumstances, employers should make sure they are well-informed about the staff member’s options and discuss these matters with the staff member herself.

A supportive attitude and open, two-way communication will help the employer and the employee to collaborate in an optimal balance between the sometimes competing demands of pregnancy and work, and this cooperation will be of benefit of both parties.

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