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Agency workers and health and safety risk assessments when you're pregnant
What's a health and safety risk assessment?
Employers must carry out health and safety risk assessments for all their workers. The assessment will also look at any specific risks you may face if you are pregnant. They usually cover things such as your working conditions and exposure to dangerous substances. Minor risks, such as exposure to coughs and colds are not counted as a hazard. Employers should discuss the findings of the risk assessment with you and not make any changes without your consent.
If your employer sends you back to the agency saying that you can't work there on health and safety grounds, the agency is responsible for telling your employer to do a risk assessment. If they don't, and the job involves some clear risks to you, you could make a claim for discrimination.
If you're sent home when you tell the employer you are pregnant and there is an immediate risk to health and safety, it may be reasonable to suspend you for a short period so the risk assessment can be done.
Confirm you're willing to work
When you know you're pregnant it's a good idea to write to your agency and employer saying that you are ready and willing to work. You can also ask for changes to be made because of your pregnancy. For example, this could be to ask for a chair if you have to stand for long periods of time.
Whether these changes will be made depends on:
- what they are
- how easy it would be for your employer to make them
- how long you are expected to work on that job.
What if your employer uses health and safety risks as an excuse to discriminate against you because you're pregnant?
Employers may use health and safety risks as an excuse to end your work. This is not discrimination if there is a genuine reason why you can't do your job. However, using health and safety risks as an excuse to get rid of you is discrimination. You may be able to make a claim if:
- you have been moved to another job without a risk assessment and the employer won't carry one out
- your employer uses minor risks as an excuse to say they don’t want you to work for them,
- your employer can give you other tasks to do to avoid health and safety risks but refuses to do so
For more information on how to make a claim for discrimination, see Next Steps.
If you can't continue with your job, does the agency have to find alternative work for you?
If you can't stay in your job because you can't reasonably avoid the health and safety risks, your employer should tell the agency. The agency should then find you alternative work. You must be paid the same amount for the new work as you were earning in the job you had to leave.
If the agency cannot find suitable alternative work for you, they must pay you for the rest of the time you were due to work. They must also pay you if you're on a pay between assignments contract.
You won't be paid if you refuse an offer of suitable alternative work and have no good reason for doing so.
If you think that you may have been discriminated against because you are pregnant, you could try to resolve the matter informally by writing to the agency, the employer or both depending on who has allegedly discriminated against you.
You should do this in writing so that you have a record of it. If this does not work, or you want to make a more formal complaint, you could write a letter of grievance. In both cases, you should set out why you think you may have been discriminated against and what you would like to be done about it.
If this doesn't work, you could make a claim to an employment tribunal. You must make a claim within three months less one day of the date of the act of discrimination you are complaining about. You should contact an employment specialist at your local Citizens Advice Bureau for help with this.
For other basic employment rights, see Agency workers – what you need to know.
For new employment rights, see Additional rights for agency workers.
Find your nearest CAB.
Other useful information
Maternity Action also has useful information for pregnant women at www.maternityaction.org.uk.
The HSE website has more information on risk assessments for pregnant women at www.hse.gov.uk.