Is an employer obliged to carry out an individual risk assessment for all new mothers returning to work from maternity leave?

An employer should carry out an individual risk assessment for an employee returning to work from maternity leave where:

  • the employer's risk assessment under reg.16(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3242) shows that the work is of a kind that poses a potential risk to the health and safety of new or breastfeeding mothers or their infants from the employer's processes, working conditions, or physical, biological or chemical agents; and
  • the employee notifies the employer that she has given birth within the last six months or is breastfeeding.

It is not a legal requirement to carry out an individual risk assessment for a mother who returns to work more than six months after the birth of her child and has not notified the employer that she is breastfeeding.

However, even where the employer does not have a specific duty to do so, carrying out an individual risk assessment helps to ensure that potential risks are avoided or minimised.

If an employer fails to conduct an individual risk assessment for an employee who is a new mother, and there are identifiable risks where protective or preventative measures should have been taken, it could face a claim for automatic discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity for failing to safeguard the employee's health and safety.