Where an employee in the early stages of pregnancy is taking regular time off sick how should the employer handle the situation?
Any less favourable treatment of a woman on the grounds that her sickness absence is pregnancy related will amount to direct sex discrimination. Because 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", it would be inadvisable for the employer to subject an employee who is absent from work with a pregnancy-related condition to any warnings for unsatisfactory attendance. Such action could also be viewed as sex discrimination. It would be advisable instead for the employer to 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 claim of sex discrimination.
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.