New and expectant mothers in the Netherlands have special rights with regard to working conditions. They are, among other things, entitled to adjusted rest times and working hours and a room for expressing milk. As an employer, you must inform new and expectant mothers about these rights. You must report the labour risks for these employees in the risk inventory and evaluation (RI&E).
If an employee tells you she is pregnant, you must tell her about the risks her work can pose for the pregnancy. There are factors that carry risk for pregnant women and unborn children, for example:
- Working under psychological strain (for example, stress or dealing with aggression)
- Working under pressure or in an environment with noise, vibrations and radiation
- Irregular working hours
- Heavy lifting. As of the 20th week, the employee is not allowed to lift 10 kilos up to 5 times a day. From the 30th week, this is limited to 5 kilos. During the last 3 months of pregnancy, she shouldn’t bend or kneel down more than once an hour. Up to 6 months after giving birth, any work involving lifting, carrying and pushing objects should be slowly built up.
- Working with hazardous substances. Pregnant employees, as well as those who are trying to get pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should not be exposed to lead and lead compounds. The same goed for hazardous substances that can harm the DNA of the (unborn) child (such as benzene). Exposure to the Rubella virus or toxoplasma bacteria (often found in cat faeces) during pregnancy should also be avoided.
- Exposure to certain micro-organisms can pose a risk for pregnant or breastfeeding women as well, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has drawn up a list (pdf, in Dutch) of potentially harmful microbes.
You have to eliminate these risks by changing the employee’s workplace or working hours or by giving them different tasks. If this is not possible, they should be exempted from work.
Adjusting working hours
A pregnant employee is entitled to more breaks: up to one-eighth of her daily working time. During pregnancy and up to 6 months after giving birth, your employee should work no more than 10 hours per shift and no more than 50 hours per 4-week period. This means that over a 16-week period the maximum average should be 45 hours a week. Night shifts are not permitted, unless you can prove there is no other option. Rules around tasks and working hours for pregnant or breast-feeding employees can also be found in the Working Conditions Decree.
Expressing milk at work
For the first 9 months after giving birth, you should give your employee time and opportunity to express milk or breastfeed. She should be able to do so as long and as often as needed (up to one quarter of the working time). You should make a room available for this end that is clean and quiet and that can be locked from the inside. If you cannot offer a suitable space, you should allow your employee to feed or express milk at home. Time spent feeding or expressing milk during work counts as working time and should therefore be paid.
A pregnant employee is entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave before giving birth and at least 10 weeks after. The employee is not allowed to work from 4 weeks before her due date until 6 weeks after giving birth. If an employee is expecting twins or triplets, she is allowed a total of at least 20 weeks of leave.You have to apply for maternity benefits for your employee’s leave at the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). You will need a letter from a GP or midwife confirming the pregnancy of your employee.