The law protects pregnant employees
Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs
If you have an employee who is pregnant or breastfeeding, it's important to be clear on what your and your employee's rights are regarding her pregnancy. Depending on what type of business you have, the employee is entitled to certain protection under the law.
Many women work during pregnancy and come back to work while they're still breastfeeding. The Labour Law has strict requirements for employers to protect these employees, so make sure you and your business complies.
The Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees During Pregnancy And After the Birth of a Child was written to ensure that no employee is discriminated against because she is pregnant and that appropriate health and safety measures are taken to ensure the wellbeing of that employee, the foetus and the child after it is born.
In a nutshell, the Code obligates you as the employer to:
- Encourage your female employees to tell you they are pregnant as early as possible, so you can assess the potential health and safety risks, and deal with them
- Evaluate the situation throughout her pregnancy and after the birth if she is breastfeeding, in order to put appropriate measures in place to protect the employee and her child
- Supply pregnant or breast-feeding employees with information and training regarding risks to their health and safety, and measures for eliminating or minimising such risks. This includes allowing the worker to attend antenatal clinics, for example
- Maintain a list of jobs not involving risk to which pregnant or breast-feeding employees could be transferred. The terms should be similar to the terms of the employee's usual job
It's also important for you to note that even where the employee has already given birth and is 100% well, the illness of the newborn baby entitles her to get time off to look after the child.
What is considered hazardous?
Many of the potential dangers for pregnant women may not be relevant to your type of business, but knowing what they are will help you protect your employee's health and ensure that you're not in breech of any laws.
There are various categories of hazards classified in the Codes of Good Practice. Without going into detail, these are:
Physical hazards, such as exposure to noise, vibration, radiation, electric or electromagnetic fields and radioactive substances, and work in extreme environments (heat and cold).
Various ergonomic risk factors include heavy physical work, static work posture, bending and twisting all the time, lifting heavy objects, repetitive work, standing and sitting for long periods of time, and getting no rest.
Contact with harmful chemical substances may cause infertility and foetal abnormalities. Some chemicals can be passed to the baby during breastfeeding and could affect the health and the development of the child. If your business involves activities that may expose people to hazardous chemical substances, you must assess the potential exposure and take the necessary preventive steps.
Many biological agents, such as bacteria and viruses, can affect the unborn child if the mother is infected during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Health workers, health-care service workers and those looking after animals or dealing with animal products are more likely to be exposed to infection than other workers.
Universal hygiene precautions are required to prevent disease. These include, amongst others, high standards of personal hygiene, sterilisation and disinfecting procedures, having an internal health and safety officer, and the use of protective clothing and gloves.
Aspects of pregnancy that may affect work
Besides the occupational safety aspect, you should be aware that the following common aspects of pregnancy may affect work:
- Due to morning sickness, employees may not be able to perform early shift work
- Work involving prolonged standing or sitting can cause backache and varicose veins. Backache can also be caused by work involving manual labour
- More frequent visits to the toilet will require reasonable access to toilet facilities. Also consider your employee's position if leaving her work poses difficulties (like in the case of a receptionist, for example)
- The employee's increasing size and discomfort may require changes of protective clothing, inability to work in confined spaces or do manual labour. Her increasing size may also impair dexterity, agility, co-ordination, speed of movement and reach
- The employee's balance may be affected, making work on slippery or wet surfaces difficult
- Tiredness associated with pregnancy may affect the employee's ability to work overtime and do evening work, so you may have to consider granting rest periods
Due to the substantial legal protections of pregnant employees - under the Basic Conditons of Employment Act - don't do what you assume is fair. Instead, stay on the right side of the law and ask a labour law expert to devise and implement a strategy that will ensure the welfare of working mothers and minimise the effect of motherhood on workplace productivity.
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