New Rules on Pregnant Workers 

This Proposed Directive aims to improve the protection offered to pregnant and nursing workers. The measure is expected to become law before the end of 2009.

Background

Directive 92/85/EEC established the right to a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave and protected workers from being dismissed from work during this period. The March 2008 European Council stated however that further efforts should be made to reconcile work with private and family life for both women and men. The Commission therefore put forward this Proposal in October 2008 to address the Council’s concerns and to improve current legislation on pregnant workers.

Aim of the Proposal

The aim of this proposal is to improve protection and job security offered to pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. This will be achieved by amending the existing Directive 92/85/EEC to:

• Increase maternity leave
• Prohibit dismissal during maternity leave
• Secure workers’ right to return to the same job

These proposed amendments are intended to improve the health and safety of women giving birth by allowing women to recover longer from pregnancy and childbirth and be able to breastfeed for a longer period. The amendments also aim to improve the employment rights of pregnant and nursing workers and contribute to a better reconciliation of professional, private and family life.

Increased Maternity Leave

Article 8 of Directive 92/85/EEC deals with the length of maternity leave. This Article would be amended as follows:

• Maternity leave to be increased from 14 to 18 weeks, 6 of which must be taken after childbirth
• Workers would be free to choose the time at which the non-compulsory portion of maternity leave is taken, before or after childbirth
• Any period of sick leave, up to 4 weeks before confinement, in the event of illness or complications during pregnancy or childbirth shall not shorten the period of maternity leave in the interest of women’s health
• Where childbirth occurs after the due date, the prenatal portion of the leave is extended to the actual date of birth, without any reduction in the post-natal portion of the leave

Prohibition of Dismissal

 Article 10 of Directive 92/85/EEC deals with the prohibition of dismissal. This Article would be amended as follows:

• The dismissal of a worker from the beginning of pregnancy to the end of maternity leave is already prohibited, except under exceptional circumstances not related to their condition and to which the competent national authority gives consent. Under the new proposal, employers would also have to justify, in writing, the dismissal of a worker within six months of the end of her maternity leave
• If a worker is dismissed during pregnancy or maternity leave, the employer must justify the action in writing

Right to Return to Work

 Article 11 of Directive 92/85/EEC deals with the right of workers returning to work. This Article would be amended as follows:

• Workers would have the right to return to the same job or to an equivalent post on terms and conditions that would be no less favourable than before
• Workers would have the right to benefit from any improvement in working conditions that took place during their absence
• Employers would be obliged to consider requests from workers, during maternity leave or returning from maternity leave, for changes to their working hours or patterns

Non-Mandatory Provisions

On the issue of payment during maternity leave, the Proposal advocates the payment of the full monthly salary received prior to maternity leave. This is not mandatory however since this payment may be subject to a ceiling to be determined by Member States. This ceiling however must not be set below the rate for sick pay.

Member States

The Member States may determine:

• The length of additional leave to be granted in the event of premature childbirth, children hospitalised at birth, new-born children with disabilities and multiple births
• The ceiling of maternity allowance. Such a ceiling may not be lower than the allowance received by workers in the event of a break in activity for health reasons
• The share of the allowance financed by the state

Member States are free to provide a higher level of protection than the level guaranteed by this proposed Directive. The proposals states that the level of protection already afforded by Member States must not be lowered in the course of implementing this Directive. Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law. The Directive will enter into force the day it is published in the EU’s Official Journal.