If you’re pregnant or planning to start a family soon, you may well be wondering how your pregnancy will affect your life in practice. From telling your employer and understanding your legal rights, to planning for maternity leave and keeping your clinical skills up-to-date – there is lots to think about and this can be a stressful time for mothers-to-be trying to prepare for a new baby at the same time! Read on to find out more information about pregnancy in veterinary practice – including your rights, safety guidelines and tips for life in practice.
Your legal rights
Firstly, it’s important to remember that your employer has a duty of care to you and your baby, and you have many employment rights as a pregnant worker. Gone are the days where it was legal for a woman to be sacked for being pregnant, or demoted and discriminated against for taking maternity leave – so you shouldn’t feel worried about coming forward with your pregnancy.
The following list outlines your maternity rights if you are legally classed as an employee.* It is also worth reading your employer’s maternity policy or staff handbook for protocols specific to your practice.
Provisions to ensure your/your baby’s wellbeing at work
Once an employer is made aware of your pregnancy, they have a responsibility to make provisions to minimise any risks to your pregnancy in the workplace. If there is any risk to your pregnancy that cannot be removed, your employer is required to temporarily adjust your working conditions, or offer suitable alternative work. If neither of these options are possible, you are entitled to paid leave until your maternity leave begins or until it is safe for you to attend work.
Protection against discrimination
Your pregnancy cannot be used against you in disciplinary, redundancy or dismissal decisions. Under The Equality Act 2010 is it unlawful for your employer to treat you unfairly because you’re pregnant, on/have been on maternity leave or have tried to take maternity leave you are entitled to. This means you can take legal action in an employment tribunal if you feel you have been treated unfairly by your practice.
- More information about what is meant by pregnancy and maternity discrimination
- Advice on what you can do if you experience pregnancy-related discrimination at work
Maternity leave and pay
As long as you give the correct notice to your employer, you are entitled to 52 weeks Statutory Maternity Leave if you’re legally classed as an employee, no matter how long you’ve worked for the company. You don’t have to take 52 weeks if you don’t want to, however you must take at least 2 weeks following the birth. Your employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during maternity leave.
You may be entitled to either statutory maternity pay, contractual maternity pay or maternity allowance. The legal minimum, provided you meet the criteria required for maternity leave, is stipulated to be 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings before tax for six weeks, followed by an additional 33 weeks of statutory maternity pay (SMP), which is £151.20* per week or a continuation of the previous pay, should it be lower. (*This is correct at the time of publishing. To check current figure please visit gov.uk)
Shared parental leave and pay
You may be eligible to share parental leave and pay with your partner. Check your eligibility here
Accruing annual leave whilst on maternity leave
Whilst on maternity leave you will accrue paid annual leave (including bank holidays) and are entitled to make use of this at some point. Whether you take this leave before or after your maternity leave is a conversation you need to have with your practice.
Right to return to work after maternity leave
If you take maternity leave for six months or less, provided the job still exists you have the right to return to your job on the same terms and conditions as before you left. If you choose to take maternity leave for more than six months, it is legal for you to be offered a similar job if it is not practical for you to return to your old job (provided terms and conditions are just as good).
Alternative work in the event of redundancy
If a redundancy situation arises, you are entitled to another suitable vacancy if one is available. It is only if there is no other suitable work that you can be made redundant. However, the reason for the redundancy has to be genuine. Your pregnancy or maternity leave cannot be the reason for the redundancy.
Understanding in the event of pregnancy-related illness or miscarriage
If you are unable to attend work because of pregnancy-related illness, this illness is not allowed to be counted towards any review or trigger points in your practice’s absence policy. If, in the four weeks before your baby is due, you are off work with a pregnancy-related illness, maternity leave will begin automatically on the following day.*Additionally, if you’re off work sick because you’ve had a miscarriage your sickness absence should be treated in the same way by your employer as if you were off because of pregnancy-related illness.
Time off for attending antenatal appointments
If you are an employee you are entitled to reasonable time off, with pay, for antenatal appointments made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner.
Support in the event of premature birth or a stillborn baby
It’s difficult to think about the possibility of your baby being born prematurely or giving birth to a stillborn baby. Nevertheless, it is important to know that your employer is required to offer appropriate support if this happens. If your baby arrives early, maternity leave will automatically start the day after the birth. If your baby is stillborn after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, or if the baby is born alive at any point (even if your baby later passes away) you are still entitled to maternity leave and any maternity pay that you qualify for.
Free prescriptions and dental care
All prescriptions and NHS dental treatment are free while you’re pregnant and for 12 months after your baby’s due date. Children also get free prescriptions until they’re 16. To claim free prescriptions, ask your doctor or midwife for form FW8 and send it to your health authority.
Right to parental leave and time off in emergencies
Parental leave allowance means you are able to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave to aid your new baby’s welfare (a maximum of four weeks per child, per year). In most cases, this has to be taken before your child’s 5th birthday. You are also allowed time off to deal with emergency situations affecting your child, with no stipulated time limit – although be aware that whether this is paid or unpaid is left at the employer’s discretion.
If you are self-employed, an agency or zero-hour contract worker, visit the Maternity Action website for further information about your maternity rights.
*Please be aware this information is correct at the time of publishing and will be updated intermittently. However, please use the additional resources at the bottom of this article to verify the most up-to-date information.
Pregnancy in Veterinary Practice: Making the announcement
You should inform your employer of your pregnancy at least 15 weeks prior to the baby’s due date. However, many announce the news much sooner than this. There are various benefits to telling your employer sooner rather than later:
- It is only once your practice knows you’re pregnant that you are entitled to full maternity rights and protected against pregnancy-related discrimination
- The earlier your employer knows you’re pregnant, the sooner they can make appropriate provisions to ensure you and your baby remain healthy at work
- The earlier you tell your manager, the easier it is to plan together how best to tell the people you work with (you can still request that your pregnancy remains confidential until you feel the time is right to tell the rest of your team)
- An earlier announcement means your employer can plan and prepare to meet the operational requirements of the organisation before you leave
- The earlier you announce, the easier it is for your employer to support you if your pregnancy is difficult or if you are experiencing issues with morning sickness
Pregnancy in Veterinary Practice: Assessing risks
Although working as a veterinary nurse carries risks, with the right precautions and monitoring there is no reason that pregnancy in veterinary practice should reduce you to making cups of tea for nine months.
Your employer should work with you to assess the physical risks associated with your role. This is so you can determine whether any adjustments need to be made to your duties. These risks should be reassessed regularly throughout your pregnancy to ensure the practice remains safe. The assessment should also take into account the common symptoms of pregnancy that may pose a risk at work. For example backache, fatigue, more frequent trips to the loo and loss of balance and coordination in later pregnancy.
Usually, practices can be easily altered to accommodate the more common symptoms of pregnancy. For example, providing more frequent rest breaks; delegating radiographic examinations elsewhere and ensuring you do not handle dangerous chemicals.
Be aware of the following risks for pregnant women in practice. If you’re concerned about your exposure don’t hesitate to raise your concerns with your practice.
- Waste anaesthetic gases
- Infectious diseases
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Heavy lifting: Whilst pregnant your ligaments are more prone to strains. Ideally heavy lifting should be avoided or approached with extra care.
- Stressful, long working hours: Generally, working nights and weekend shifts cannot be avoided without recommendation from your doctor/midwife. However, it is worth having the conversation to see if compromises can be made as your pregnancy progresses.
Returning to veterinary practice after maternity leave
The thought of returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting prospect. You may worry about your clinical skills. You may be concerned about the impact your absence will have on the relationships you have with your team. Then there’s getting up to date with the latest industry developments and drugs / equipment…
In many ways veterinary nursing is like riding a bike – once you’ve learnt the skills they’re very difficult to lose and, although you might be a bit rusty to begin with, it won’t be long before you’re back in the swing of things. Plus, there’s no gap in knowledge that can’t be filled with CPD and a supportive practice! If you’re returning to work after maternity leave, read on to find out what you need to consider…
Returning to work after less than 5 years
If you have been unregistered with the RCVS for less than five years, the good news is that re-joining the Register of Veterinary Nurses is simple! All you need to do log in to your RCVS account or complete a Restoration Form.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
As part of your welcome back to practice, your practice should be more than happy to assist you in refreshing your skills and knowledge if needed. However, as a veterinary nurse, remember it is your professional responsibility to ensure your skills and knowledge remain up-to-date.
Before returning to practice it is worth looking at what courses may be available to help you refresh any skills or knowledge you feel is relevant to ease your move back into practice life. Alternatively, if you are not currently employed you could contact your local practices and see if there is opportunity for you to help out on an odd day, or shadow a nurse to refresh your skills. Visit the CAW CPD website
“Keeping in touch” days
It is worth taking advantage of the government’s “Keeping in Touch” days scheme. This scheme allows you to work 10 full or part time days without losing your maternity benefits. Although there is no obligation for your practice to offer these days, or for you to take them, they can be useful for remaining in contact with your workplace and keeping up-to-date with work developments. For example, you may want to use them to attend a training session or team meeting. Alternatively, you could use them to work shorter weeks and return to work more gradually.
Returning to work after 5+ years
If you have not been in active practice for five years or more, you will need to go through a Period of Supervised Practice (PSP) before you can apply to re-join the RCVS Register of Veterinary Nurses.
You are not required to be assessed or formally re-examined as part of the PSP. During your PSP you will work with a named mentor (an experienced RVN or vet) in practice in order to refresh your knowledge and skills. This is so you can regain confidence in the role under supervision of other registered practitioners, to ensure you are able to practise safely.
Once you have returned to work in a veterinary practice you should contact the RCVS in order to register for the PSP. You will be asked to complete a registration form and pay a fee. Your PSP mentor and Practice Principal will need to give their agreement to support you and sign your registration form. Read the full PSP guidance handbook
Asking for flexible working arrangements
For those returning to work after maternity leave in particular, a common problem is that the hours demanded by the veterinary nursing profession are not always family friendly. Early starts, late finishes, weekend and on-call shifts can be difficult to arrange around childcare. This means that many new mothers can only work part time, or have to find a new job. But don’t panic…
You have the right to ask your employer for flexible or reduced working hours after maternity leave.
Your employer doesn’t have to grant your request if they can show it wouldn’t be suitable for their business. However, most practices will see the value in keeping on their experienced staff, so it is worth asking. Take a look at the The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) guidance on how to formally request flexible working arrangements.
If it isn’t possible for you to work flexibly at your current practice, don’t panic. You may wish to look for part-time work elsewhere, or look at other career opportunities that offer more flexible or conventional working hours. For example, you could work as a locum or look at training as a veterinary nursing lecturer.