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Rights in the workplace during pregnancy and breastfeeding

There are some restrictions on working hours during pregnancy – According to the Maternity Protection Act, you have special rights at work during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There are several obligations for the employer, which are effective as soon as the employer becomes aware of the pregnancy. Your "duty" is therefore to notify them in good time.

Rights in the workplace – basic principles

As soon as you find out that you are pregnant, you should inform your employer – only then can they fulfill their obligations. Upon notification, he/she must file a pregnancy report with the relevant supervisory authority.

There he will also receive support regarding the design of the workplace: Neither your nor your child’s health may be endangered by the activity.

In order to protect health, the permitted activities per se, but also the working hours and the provisions on the working environment during pregnancy and breastfeeding are regulated by law. All conditions must be checked by the employer: He must inform persons who are responsible for the implementation of the protective regulations.

Employment prohibitions

A distinction is made between a general (company) and an individual (medical) prohibition of employment. Every pregnancy is different: if your state of health does not allow you to carry out certain activities due to your pregnancy, or if this involves a risk for you or the child, an individual ban on employment applies with the issue of a medical certificate.

The general ban on employment during pregnancy applies to all activities in which you are exposed to substances or conditions that are hazardous to health, such as gases, vapors, radiation, heat, cold or noise. In summary, these are chemical and biological hazardous substances as well as harmful physical influences.

If you are unable to perform your previous job during pregnancy, the employer may (if operationally possible) assign you to reasonable alternative tasks.

You are also not allowed to perform heavy physical work. This includes activities that involve a stretched or stooped posture or require the regular lifting of loads weighing more than five kilograms.

Technical assistance must be available for occasional lifting of loads weighing more than ten kilograms. Also prohibited are activities with a prescribed pace, which includes assembly line and piece-rate work.

Working conditions and hours

If you perform a predominantly standing job, the employer must provide you with regular breaks during which you can sit down to relax. If, on the other hand, your work is predominantly sedentary, you may take breaks to change your posture and stretch your legs. In addition, the workplace must be designed in such a way that there is no increased risk of accident.

With regard to working hours, there are further restrictions during pregnancy: You may not work more than 8.5 hours a day or 90 hours in two consecutive weeks. For minors, eight hours a day and 80 hours in two weeks apply. Extra work is not allowed.

Pregnant women may not be employed on Sundays and public holidays or at night between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., although there are exceptions for some industries such as catering, agriculture and nursing, as well as the arts and show business.

If you wish to work overtime, at night, on Sundays or on public holidays, you can apply for an exemption. All you need to do is submit an informal request stating the reasons for your request and a medical certificate stating that there are no medical reasons why you should not be allowed to take photographs or videos.

Breastfeeding time

The same health protection regulations apply to breastfeeding mothers as to pregnant women with regard to their activities. In addition, you have a right to breastfeeding breaks during working hours. According to the Maternity Protection Act, this must be at least half an hour twice a day or one hour once a day.

If the continuous working time is more than eight hours, you are entitled to 45 minutes twice a day or 90 minutes once a day, if you so wish. You may use the latter period to leave the workplace to breastfeed.

Working time is considered continuous if it is not interrupted by a break of at least two hours. Breastfeeding breaks may not be offset against rest breaks; you are entitled to these independently of them. Also, the employer may not require you to work ahead or behind time. By the way, you don’t have to put your baby down to breastfeed, but can also use the time for pumping.

Protection periods

Your rights also include the exercise of maternity protection periods. Statutory maternity protection begins six weeks before the expected date of delivery and ends eight weeks, in the case of premature and multiple births twelve weeks after the birth.

The employer may not employ you during this period. However, if you wish to continue your employment at your own express request before giving birth, you may do so, provided that no doctor has issued a prohibition of employment.

Protection against dismissal

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, you should retain your job; the employer is therefore subject to a prohibition of dismissal up to and including four months after the birth. If an existing pregnancy is not yet known and the employer gives notice of termination, you have a period of two weeks from receipt of the notice to report the pregnancy. This renders the dismissal invalid.

In exceptional cases, the employer is also entitled to terminate the employment during pregnancy, for example in the event of insolvency or closure of the company. However, this requires the approval of the supervisory office.

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