Where an employee in the early stages of pregnancy is taking regular time off sick how should the employer handle the situation?
Any unfavourable treatment of an employee because she is off sick because of pregnancy-related illness will amount to unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The period beginning with the start of a woman's pregnancy and ending with her return to work after maternity leave is deemed to be a "protected period". Any warnings for unsatisfactory attendance due to a pregnancy-related condition would be viewed as pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The employer should discount all genuine pregnancy-related sickness absences from any absence management procedure that it applies.
Further, an employee who is off sick during the early stages of her pregnancy will be entitled to be paid statutory sick pay, if she qualifies for it, and, depending on the terms of her contract, contractual sick pay, in the same way as any other employee. If the payment of contractual sick pay is discretionary, it would be advisable for the employer to exercise discretion in the employee's favour in order to avoid a potential discrimination claim.
The employer should also ensure that the manager of the employee in question is properly briefed and trained in the subject of employees' rights during pregnancy and maternity leave so as to ensure that an employee in this situation is treated with the appropriate degree of respect and courtesy.