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Pregnant Employees May Require a Safe Job. Here’s What You Need to Know

Published April 30, 2021 (last updated May 20, 2021) -
parental leave safe job

When an employee becomes pregnant, their regular role may present extra risk to their health and safety at work. That employee may come to you with a medical certificate from their doctor, stating so; or you may recognise there may be an issue, remembering that as an employer you have an obligation to ensure a healthy and safe working environment for all employees, as reasonably practicably as you can.

In workplace relations legislation, there is a provision for this specific scenario. It’s called a ‘safe job’.

What is a Safe Job?

During pregnancy, an employee’s role may present risks or hazards to the employee that normally wouldn’t be present or as high risk. If this is the case, a provision exists for the employee to temporarily transferred to a “safe job”.

To request a transfer, an employee must present evidence (e.g. a medical certificate) to their employer that, while they are still fit to work, it is inadvisable for them to continue working in their current role and why (e.g. if heavy lifting forms an important part of their role).

A “safe job” refers to a role where the employee can:

  • work with minimised risks to their health and safety during their pregnancy
  • enjoy the same terms and conditions as they would in their normal job

If the pregnant employee agrees, the appropriate safe job may have fewer ordinary hours of work.

The employee must be paid at their full rate of pay for all hours worked in the safe job.

Can an Employer Initiate a Transfer?

Yes, but an employer should be careful of discrimination as an employee can’t be treated differently just because she is pregnant. An employer should raise and discuss their concerns with the pregnant employee. If the employee wishes to stay in their role, an employer can request they get a medical certificate from a doctor stating whether then can continue to remain in the role during all or part of their pregnancy. Employers can use BrightHR’s cloud storage to safely store and easily share all documents required during this process.

Employers might find it beneficial to be proactive in planning for the transfer of pregnant employees into safe jobs. Employers should be especially aware in circumstances whereby an employee’s  normal working conditions are potentially risky, or physically or mentally demanding. For example, role including repetitive lifting and bending, climbing stairs and walking across unstable surfaces, working in cold or hot environments, working with animals, working which chemicals, or working in remote, relatively inaccessible locations. However, it must be observed that employers may be required to accommodate safe work even in circumstances whereby the employee works in a comparatively safer environment such as an office

What If I Can’t Place Them in a Safe Job?

If there is no safe job in accordance with the above provisions, the employee is entitled to take no safe job leave for the risk period. If the employee has over 12 months of continuous service, the leave must be paid at the base rate of pay for their ordinary hours of work (for full-time or part-time workers), or at the base rate of pay (excluding casual loading) for the average number of hours they would have worked in the period that they’re on leave, for casuals.

If the employee is not entitled to unpaid parental leave, they can take unpaid no safe job leave.

Returning to Work

Return to Work Guarantee

On ending unpaid parental leave, an employee is entitled to return to their pre-parental leave position, or if that position no longer exists, an available position for which the employee is qualified and suited nearest in status and pay.

BrightHR’s intuitive Back to Work Navigator tool gives employers one place to manage all their back to work processes.

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What if the Role No Longer Exists?

If the job doesn’t exist anymore– due to an organisational change, for example – this is a redundancy and an employer must find the employee a suitable job that the employee is qualified to work in and shares the same pay and status as their previous job, if available. The employer should have carried out the redundancy process and consulted with the employee regarding any proposed changes to their job while they were still on parental leave.

They Were Transferred to a Safe Job While Pregnant. Can I Send Them Back to That Job?

An employee is an entitled to return to their regular role when they return from parental leave. If they were transferred to a safe job, this was done on the proviso that it was a temporary change due to their pregnancy making them inadvisable for them to continue working their regular role.

If you wish to move them permanently to their safe job, you will have to negotiate with the employee like you would in any other scenario. They would be entitled to unconditionally reject their offer and stay in their role.

Can I Make an Employee Redundant While They’re on Parental Leave?

If the business meets all the usual requirements for making a redundancy – including, but not limited to, ensuring the redundancy is genuine, consultation, and exploring alternative employment options, – then an employer may make an employee redundant during parental leave. For example, a business that is closing down has no option but to make all of their employees redundant.

However, making an employee redundant while they’re on parental leave can become complex, especially when considering anti-discrimination legislation.

If you’d like further advice on this topic, please feel free to call us on 1300 651 415 for free initial advice.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of Australia’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 27,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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