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Pregnancy in Veterinary Practice: Information, Advice & Guidance

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.

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)

Visit the government website to learn more about statutory maternity pay and leave, including what you qualify for and how to claim it

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.

Continue reading for advice about announcing your pregnancy, assessing risks to pregnancy in veterinary practice and returning to work after maternity leave…

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