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Pregnancy and work: what are the recommendations?
A legislative framework has been implemented to support employees during and after their pregnancy. However, a recent study by the Anact-Aract network revealed a lack of information, which was submitted to the Minister of Labour, Employment, Vocational Training and Social Dialogue. This study reveals inadequate consideration of pregnancy in companies, minimal involvement of occupational physicians in the decision-making process, and inefficient ergonomics. Based on the false information and lack of knowledge in this area, it is essential to examine the recommendations to support pregnant employees and their managers and employers.
Declaring a pregnancy
When an employee learns that she is pregnant, the concept of sharing this news can be distressing. This should not be the case. The sooner she announces it, the better, as she can rapidly take advantage of all the benefits provided by the law. However, she is not obliged to do so. She is free to choose when to declare her condition. However, this should be declared before she goes on maternity leave to avoid a breach of the employment contract. It is preferable to make this announcement by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt or by hand in return for a receipt attesting that the company has received the reason for her absence and the expected date of her return to work.
Additionally, it is recommended that she consults the occupational physician, who can inform her of all the measures to protect her health and safety and improve her working conditions. The occupational physician is bound by professional secrecy and plays an important role in liaising with the employer once the latter has been informed of the pregnancy. Based on their expertise, they can propose better ergonomics to avoid occupational risks that may harm the pregnancy.
Ergonomics for a pregnant employee
Ergonomics for pregnant women covers all adaptations to the working conditions and environment that are conducive to a healthy pregnancy and the protection of their health.
Positions prohibited for pregnant women
Due to the various studies and expert opinions on the risks encountered in the workplace during pregnancy, the Labour Code formally prohibits employing a pregnant woman in jobs that expose her to specific chemical, biological and physical risks.
A pregnant employee is not allowed to carry loads exceeding 25 kg, even when using a hand truck, or use equipment such as a compressed air jackhammer. Therefore, the occupational physician and employer may simply decide to exempt her from carrying any load to minimise all risks during this period, especially in the first few months when the risk of miscarriage is increased. Furthermore, she is not allowed to work outside when the temperature is below 0°C.
Concerning biological and chemical risks, a pregnant woman cannot be assigned to the following:
- A job that exposes her to benzene, certain antiparasitic products, lead and certain derivatives of aromatic hydrocarbons;
- Work involving biological risks such as the rubella virus or toxoplasmosis, unless her state of immunity proves that she is sufficiently protected;
- Work that exposes her to chemical agents classified as toxic to reproduction category 1A or 1B according to the European and CLP classifications;
- Work in a hyperbaric environment if the task to be performed exposes her to a relative pressure of more than 100 hectopascals;
- A position exposing her to ionising radiation requiring a category A classification.
Arrangement of a pregnant woman's workspace
In addition to the legal obligations, the occupational physician must propose suitable adjustments to the working environment to support a pregnant employee efficiently and effectively. This may include a reduction in standing or sitting time and elimination of tasks requiring load-carrying. These rearrangements are proposals made to managers and employers, which consider not only the well-being of a pregnant woman but also that of her colleagues.
In the context of work formally prohibited by the Labour Code for pregnant women, the occupational physician's recommendations are no longer only proposals. It becomes imperative to reorganise the work area to comply with the current regulations. Moreover, if it is impossible to reconcile the usual work with a pregnant employee's condition, a temporary assignment must be considered. These temporary measures must not lead to a reduction in her salary, even if the employment contract is suspended due to the lack of a possible assignment.
Adjustment of working hours
Although the law does not explicitly provide for a reduction or rearrangement of working hours for pregnant women, collective agreements exist that allow for a reduction in working hours for a period or the entire duration of the pregnancy. This depends on the sector.
Pregnant women are not forbidden to work at night; however, they can ask to be assigned to a day shift on the advice of the occupational physician.
All pregnant employees are granted leave of absence to attend compulsory medical check-ups relating to monitoring the pregnancy and the aftermath of childbirth. These absences do not affect their remuneration or the period of maternity leave provided for under the current regulations.
An employee who is breastfeeding has 1 hour per day during working hours for 1 year after the birth. This hour is divided into two periods of 30 minutes in the morning and the afternoon. If the company provides a breastfeeding area, this time is reduced to 40 minutes, again divided similarly. In most industries, these hours are unpaid.
The Social Security and Labour Code establish maternity leave according to the number of children already born. Thus, a pregnant woman is entitled to a minimum of 16 weeks of maternity leave, including 6 weeks during the prenatal period and 10 weeks after the birth. For the third birth, this period increases from 16 weeks to 26 weeks, divided into 8 weeks before the birth and 18 weeks after.
For multiple births, maternity leave is extended to 34 weeks for twins, of which 12 weeks are before the birth and 22 weeks after, and 46 weeks for triplets, of which 24 weeks are during the prenatal period and 22 weeks during the postnatal period.
It is noteworthy that your working hours are effective during your maternity leave and thus entitle you to remuneration from your social security fund under certain conditions or from your company, depending on the collective agreement.
Depending on a pregnant woman's health, the attending physician may decide to prescribe a medical leave to avoid taking risks. This entitles you to an additional 2 weeks before the birth and 4 weeks after if complications occur after the birth. Medical leave is regarded as sick leave and therefore entitles the employee to the relevant benefits.
After maternity leave
After maternity leave, the employee should normally return to her former position with the same benefits. Eight days after her return, an interview with the occupational physician must be organised by the employer to determine whether she is fit to return to the same position and whether to make adjustments or reclassify her. This visit also enables determination of whether the work performed during the pregnancy is responsible for an anomaly or neonatal pathology.
Dismissal of a pregnant employee
Just as a company cannot refuse to employ you because you are pregnant, it cannot dismiss you on these grounds. If a dismissal is made before the pregnancy is declared, it can be cancelled within 15 days of the announcement by sending a medical certificate of pregnancy by recorded delivery. No dismissal may be made during the maternity leave and 10 weeks after its expiry.