EU Court Supports Rights of Pregnant Workers
(CN) - Pregnant women who stop working during the late stages of pregnancy can receive public benefits as long as they return to work soon after giving birth, the EU high court ruled Thursday.
Jessy St. Prix worked as a teaching assistant and in nursery schools after moving from France to the United Kingdom. While six months pregnant in 2008, St. Prix found it too strenuous to care for young children and stopped working.
St. Prix filed for income support, a program typically available for women who are pregnant or have just given birth. Foreign-born EU citizens like St. Prix can also qualify as long as they have acquired the status of "worker" in the U.K.
But British officials denied St. Prix's application on grounds that she lost her worker status when she quit working - even though she returned to work three months after the birth of her child and presumably regained her worker status.
St. Prix took her case to the U.K. high court, which asked the European Court of Justice whether a woman who voluntarily gives up work because of pregnancy remains a worker under EU law.
The Luxembourg-based court noted Thursday that the EU constitution's freedom of movement clause and EU law require citizens who move to another member state for longer than three months to be employed in the host state. Once the immigrant finds work, he retains the status of worker even if he becomes temporarily unable to work because of illness or injury, the court said.
And while the court declined to call St. Prix's pregnancy an illness, the fact that she returned to work quickly after giving birth meant that she retained her worker status. The court also noted that the EU gives special protections to women in connection with maternity.
"In order to determine whether the period that has elapsed between childbirth and starting work again may be regarded as reasonable, the national court concerned should take account of all the specific circumstances of the case in the main proceedings and the applicable national rules on the duration of maternity leave and EU law on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding," the court concluded.