Guidance for the Employer
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Employer Guidance

When an employee tells you they're pregnant

There is no legal obligation for the employee to tell their employer until 15 weeks before the due date. However, some employers state in their contracts that the employee must tell them as soon as it is confirmed. The nature of equine veterinary work means that employees often need to inform employers as soon as possible (e.g. avoiding x-ray radiation), which can pose a dilemma for some and so the matter should be dealt with sensitively.

Schedule a meeting

• Request a relaxed meeting with the employee to discuss how the practice intends to provide support for them and how they can help the transition for the practice.
• Signpost them to sources of available information, e.g. practice policies, BEVA MumsVet,,,
• Offer to go through any relevant contract details at this, or in a subsequent, meeting.
• Discuss informing other members of staff. Remember that this is at the discretion of the employee, so respect her wishes.
• Make a written record of the meeting and share it with the employee.

Carry out a risk assessment

Identify and discuss the risks for this pregnant member of staff at the first opportunity. Some risks might be common to any pregnant employees, others may be unique to the individual’s role or circumstances. Templates/examples, such as the Risk Assessment document, may be a good starting point but should not be used blindly.

Some risk areas that are likely to be different for pregnant employees would include:

• Working hours: Consider any increased risks associated with long days or missed food breaks.
• Rest breaks: Consider any increased risks associated with long periods of standing or sitting. First and third trimesters are notoriously the most tiring.
• On call: Discuss the risks associated with the OOH rota and consider a contingency plan should any changes be required at short notice.
• Lone working: Assess whether there are any increased procedural risks associated with working alone and whether they might viably be mitigated by support from a technician/nurse or student.
• Manual handling: Hormone changes during pregnancy increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury and lifting heavy items can pose an increased risk to the pregnancy. These risks should not be underestimated and assessment and mitigations should be carefully considered.
• Toxic chemicals: The use of those chemicals that are particularly hazardous to pregnant personnel, e.g. sarcoid creams, griseofulvin, steroids, alpha-2 agonists, prostaglandins, hormones (oxytocin), scintigraphy radionuclides, inhaled anaesthetics (isoflurane, halothane, desflurane), should be discussed and considered. Exposure limits set by the practice usually already allow for the possible exposure of pregnant workers but it may be an appropriate time to check that precautions are observed.
• Radiation: X-ray (conventional and CT), gamma scintigraphy and brachytherapy doses should be below the permitted limit (1mSV) for a foetus but it may be an appropriate time to check that working practices meet requirements. See “Working Safely with Ionising Radiation - Guidelines for expectant or breastfeeding mothers” (INDG334) on for the employee. Some pregnant women prefer to avoid all forms of radiation throughout pregnancy (and sometimes breastfeeding) and this choice should be supported.

A copy of the completed risk assessment form should be given to the employee and a copy kept by the practice.

Ensure that secretaries/office staff are aware of the plan in relation to booking appointments so that any work that needs to be avoided is redirected to alternative members of the team. The redirection of such work should also be discussed with other colleagues as necessary, for instance other veterinary surgeons so that they are aware this work is being redirected to them.

During Pregnancy

Review meetings

Arrange a meeting(s) to review the plan and update the risk assessment to reflect the stage of pregnancy and the individual’s circumstances. There is no limit to the number of meetings you can have; some practices plan monthly meetings and increase/decrease the frequency as necessary.

Remember to discuss maternity leave, e.g. the member of staff’s preferred dates for finishing work (including using up any annual leave) and starting maternity leave.

Maternity leave can be shared between the mother and father in some cases (Parental Leave), but this is a matter for the employee to discuss with their husband/partner and check whether they qualify for it.

Make a written record of each meeting and share them with the employee.

Time off for appointments

Paid time off for antenatal appointments is mandatory. This may include midwife, doctor or hospital appointments, IVF treatments and any other pregnancy related care that a doctor or midwife deem necessary (e.g. physiotherapy, parenting classes).

Fathers and partners of pregnant women are entitled to unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments.

Encourage the member of staff to put these appointments in the practice diary at the earliest opportunity so that work can be scheduled around them.

If the member of staff is not coping or is unwell

Make sure that she knows that she can, and should, let you know if she is unwell or is struggling with the workload.

Remember that providing alternative work within the practice may be a solution, e.g. clinic based work rather than ambulatory work, insurance forms and queries, reception duties, staff training, stock taking, client advice sheets, client talks/evenings, website and social media updates, newsletters, client questionnaires, clinical audits, advertising, student teaching, practice standards compliance, paperwork, updating protocols, running lab samples, reporting lab results, bill checking etc. If there is no suitable alternative work available the employee may have to be suspended on full pay.

On Call Rota

Changes to the out of hours rota should be addressed at the earliest opportunity to minimise any disruption to colleagues. Remember that night work and on call duties can be increasingly difficult during pregnancy as well as being considered a slightly increased risk. As such a contingency plan should be in place for any changes required at short notice. Some practices’ preferred route is to ask pregnant staff to provide back-up for less experienced vets on the rota or vice-versa. This can become particularly useful as the pregnancy progresses and comprehensive risk assessment has been carried out.

Maternity Cover

In an appropriate review meeting you should discuss maternity cover arrangements, e.g. locum, staff restructuring, reallocating work/clients to colleagues etc. Any advertising for maternity cover should only commence once the pregnancy is common knowledge. Plan well ahead for the ‘hand-over’ in order to ensure a smooth transition for clients and all staff involved. This may involve a period of overlap and could therefore require you to consider the availability of equipment/resources.

Finishing work and starting maternity leave

Some employees like to use up annual leave before starting their Statutory Maternity Leave (SML), as otherwise they may risk losing it. This should be discussed at one of the review meetings. Deciding when SML commences is up to the employee so long as the following applies.

Usually, the earliest SML can be started is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. It will automatically commence the day after the birth if the baby is early, or if the employee is off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the week (Sunday to Saturday) that the baby is due.

Notice to start (or change) SML should be given in writing at least 28 days before the date.

It is a good idea to discuss what happens to practice owned equipment and medication prior to the last day so that this can be stored or used by other members of the practice as appropriate.

During maternity leave

Length of maternity leave

Opening dialogue on this matter is a good idea but you should be careful not to apply pressure to make any decisions before the employee is ready.

All pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) regardless of how long they have been employed. It is a right available from day one of employment (unlike Statutory Maternity Pay, see below).

The first 26 weeks of SML are known as Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and the second 26 weeks are known as Additional Maternity Leave (AML). An important difference between OML and AML is the extent of the employee’s right to return to work at the end of their maternity leave. At the end of OML they have the right to return to their previous job. At the end of AML their right to return is slightly different (see ‘RIGHTS’ below).

As an employer you should assume that the employee will take the full 52 weeks of SML until you know otherwise. If the employee wishes to return earlier, for example when SMP ends, they must give at least 8 weeks’ notice. Similarly if they wish to change the date of return the same notice period applies.

If the employee decides not to return to work at all, they must give notice in the normal way as per their contract.

Maternity pay

The employee is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if she has been employed by the practice for at least 28 weeks at a time point of 15 weeks PRIOR to the due date (known as the “Qualifying Week”). The dates should be verified by “proof of pregnancy” (usually a MATB1 form or letter from the doctor or midwife).

Leave dates and maternity pay can be calculated using the ‘Maternity, Adoption and paternity calculator for employers’ at

Discuss the employee’s rights to SMP and whether she is eligible for any additional company maternity pay/package (

SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks. The employee gets 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks, then the current allowance (£140.98 in 2017; changes annually) or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

SMP is paid in the same way as wages (for example monthly or weekly).

Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.

An employer can usually reclaim 92% of employees’ SMP (103% if the business qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief) using payroll software to include it in an Employer Payment Summary (EPS) to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

SMP is calculated using the last 8 weeks pay before the end of the “Qualifying Week” (15th week before the baby is due), so make sure any changes in the employee’s pay are effected by this point (e.g. stopping childcare vouchers and other salary sacrifices if required).

SMP commences on the first day of SML. see ‘FINISHING WORK AND STARTING MATERNITY LEAVE’ .

Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death

Under the law, if the baby is born dead before the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, it is called a miscarriage, and the employee is entitled to sick leave and statutory sick pay but not maternity leave or SMP.

If the baby is born dead after the beginning of the 24th week of pregnancy it is called a stillbirth, and the employee is entitled to maternity leave and can claim Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.

The same applies to paternity leave.

Benefits in kind

Company car, car allowance, accommodation, housing allowance, mobile phone, phone allowance, childcare vouchers, pension, CPD allowance, etc... should all be discussed in relation to the employee’s contract. As a rough rule, anything deemed as a benefit should be continued throughout maternity leave, whereas continuation of anything classed as remuneration or a cash benefit is at the employer’s discretion and may well be referred to in the contract of employment.

Annual leave and pay increases

Annual leave continues to accrue whilst on maternity leave.

Any pay increases will apply once the employee has returned to their salary.

Keeping in touch (KIT) days

KIT days are intended to allow those on maternity leave to keep up to date and to facilitate a smooth return to work. The employee can work up to 10 KIT days (paid for the whole day even if attending a meeting for an hour).

KIT days are optional - both the employee and employer need to agree to them, they must be arranged in advance and the days do not have to be consecutive. Use of KIT days does not affect the employee’s right to SMP or maternity leave.

Return to work

Consider a small induction to bring the employee up to speed with any changes at the practice (personnel, operating procedures, medicines, etc).

A phased return can work for some new mothers and some practices. Annual leave, which continued to accrue during the maternity leave, can be used to facilitate this (e.g. working fewer days per week for the first month) as can KIT days (e.g. working 10 KIT days in the last month of maternity leave).

Plan one or more review meetings to ensure the return to work is going well for both parties.


If returning to work after 26 weeks or less the employee is entitled to return to exactly the same job. If returning after more than 26 weeks you can offer a suitable alternative job on the same terms and conditions. You will need to provide a business justification for this and, given the risk of a claim, you should seek legal guidance if considering this.

Flexible working

All employees are entitled to make a written request for flexible working (hours, days, or place of work) provided they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks.

The employer must have a sound business reason for rejecting such a request.

The unpredictable nature of most equine veterinary work means that finding flexible childcare for employees’ children can be challenging. Employees and employers need to be mindful of the fact that this creates a new and significant source of stress for all parties. It may be that pre-set cut off times for first and last calls in various locations can help to relieve this pressure.

Flexible working changes may also affect the OOH rota and it is important that there is clarity over any agreement and that you consider what impact the flexible working arrangements will have on the workload of other staff within the business.


Ensure the following are addressed before the employee returns to work:

• VDS cover is resumed

• RCVS membership is returned to UK practising category

• CPD requirements are satisfied (105 hours in 3 years)

• OV qualifications are still valid (if applicable)

• Consider any refresher courses or CPD that may help prepare for the return to work following a break (see the BEVA website for webinars and return to work CPD)

• Any changes to practice policy and procedures are discussed, including changes to medicines, equipment and staff (a good use of KIT days/mini-induction)