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Working while Pregnant

Working and Pregnant? Know your rights.

She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn't take them along.
Margaret Culkin Banning 

A lot has been said about the pressures and challenges associated with being a working mom. But what about the demanding months leading up to the birth? You know you become a mom long before you hold your baby in your arms, but how does your employer feel about your new status? Knowing your rights - and those of your employer - is essential in making working while pregnant an agreeable experience for you, your baby and your employer.

The first and most important point for both employers and employees to note is that no person may be discriminated against, or dismissed, due to being pregnant. This is a Constitutional right. Both the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act also prohibit against unfair discrimination. The Code of Good Practice stipulates that employers are required to provide and maintain a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees.  The Code states that this includes risks to the reproductive health of employees. The Code of Good Practice further gives specific requirements regarding pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. It requires that employers actively identify and assess risks and then take appropriate action to avoid any such risks to the employee, the unborn child or the breast-feeding child.

While many women may know that they may not be directly discriminated against, I wonder how many realise that they do not in fact have to suffer through pregnancy’s many little discomforts in silence, or become unnecessarily stressed because of unavoidable physical changes. The Code of Good Practice deals extensively with aspects of pregnancy that may affect work. It addresses such issues as morning sickness, backache, varicose veins, the need for more frequent trips to the loo, tiredness and the increasing size and discomfort of the employee as pregnancy progresses. It even addresses issues such as the employee’s sense of balance becoming affected if she is required to work or walk on slippery or wet surfaces in the workplace!

What about maternity leave?

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, you are entitled to four consecutive months’ unpaid maternity leave. This leave should start four weeks prior to the expected date of birth, unless a medical practitioner or midwife has advised otherwise.

You may not return to work for six weeks after the birth of the child (unless certified fit to do so by a medical practitioner or midwife.)

You may claim UIF maternity benefits from the Department of Labour. Ensure that you submit your claim documents at least 8 weeks before you go on maternity leave.

It is also important to note that employers may not refuse to take you back after your maternity leave, nor may they place you in another position due to having given your job to someone else while you were away.

As far as your partner’s paternity rights are concerned – he is entitled to at least three days of family responsibility leave, which includes the birth of the child.

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