Workers who are pregnant during the pandemic need to follow additional government and health guidelines during their employment.
Covid-19 and the risks to pregnant women
Medical experts have found that for those who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, there is an increased risk for a small number of women of becoming severely ill if they contract Covid-19. There is no suggestion that pregnant women are more likely to contract Covid-19 however.
The study also found an increased risk of hospital admissions in respect of pregnant women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Pregnant women aged over 35, those who have a body mass index of 30 or above and those who had a number of pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes were also at an increased risk of developing a severe illness and requiring hospital treatment.
The government have classed pregnant woman as clinically vulnerable during the pandemic and as at 31 October 2020 its ‘strong advice’ was that they should work at home wherever possible.
Pregnant workers who have been told that they are extremely vulnerable should stay at home as much as possible and where they cannot work from home, adjustments will need to be made by their employer. This includes pregnant women who have a heart condition, who are strongly advised to stay at home and avoid any face-to-face contact.
If you believe that you are in this category, but your employer has not offered you any alternative but to continue working, you should seek employment law advice so that your rights can be enforced and you can be as safe as possible.
Employers have a duty to protect their employees from harm. This means that they must undertake a risk assessment of the jobs of any pregnant workers, particularly during the pandemic.
Any activity or situation which may put the employee at risk of Covid-19 must be identified. Once the risk has been assessed, the employer should take action to minimise it.
Safety precautions should be put in place, such as protective equipment, changing the role to make social distancing easier and changing travel times to avoid contact with other commuters.
The assessment must also take into account other factors which could increase the risk to a pregnant worker, such as race, weight, age and pre-existing health conditions.
Offering alternative work
If an employee is at greater risk, then the employer should offer alternative work if their existing role cannot be safely carried out or carried out from home. The rate of pay should remain the same, even if the job is less onerous and the alternative job should not be substantially less favourable.
Employers must keep the risks under review over time and as circumstances change.
More details about conducting a risk assessment during the Covid-19 pandemic are available on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.
For those who are working in essential services, extra consideration should be given to those at higher risk.
If it is not possible for an employer to reduce the risk to an employee to an acceptable level, the employee must be suspended from work on full pay. This should be based on usual earnings and should not be sick pay. The suspension should last as long as necessary to ensure that the health of both the worker and their baby is protected.
If a pregnant worker is suspended, maternity leave will automatically begin six weeks before the expected due day of the baby.
Where a pregnant worker is not required because of a reduction in available work, they can be placed on furlough under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. However, furlough should not be used because a worker is pregnant and unable to work on health and safety grounds.
What rights do pregnant workers have?
Pregnancy and maternity are so-called protected characteristics under the Equality Act. This means that someone who is pregnant cannot be discriminated against because they are pregnant or have had a baby within the past 26 weeks or are breastfeeding. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination includes being unfairly treated or dismissed and it applies no matter how long an employee has worked for an employer.
The Equality Act also covers being unfairly selected for furlough or redundancy. The criteria used for selecting someone for furlough or redundancy must be open and fair and the employer must follow the correct procedure.
If you are pregnant and you are selected for redundancy, you must be offered any other suitable vacancy that may be available before it is offered to other redundant workers. Failure to do this could constitute unfair dismissal. If you have been made redundant while pregnant you should speak to expert employment solicitors who will be able to advise you of your rights and options.
A pregnant employee does not need to give their employer a fixed date on which she will start her maternity leave until 15 weeks before the due date. An employer should not insist that maternity leave start earlier, nor should they postpone the return to work date.
An employer should also keep an employee who is on maternity leave updated about any job changes that may be taking place during her absence, any available promotions and any possible furlough or redundancy. This can be done on Keeping In Touch days, which are up to ten paid days of work that can be done during maternity leave to help an employee understand an evolving situation.
Legal advice for pregnant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic
Employers are coping with complicated rules and regulations relating to the pandemic and it is possible that a pregnant worker’s rights could be overlooked, either deliberately or inadvertently. If you are concerned about a breach of your pregnancy rights at work or you are an employer who needs help managing the current situation, you should seek expert advice to ensure that any possible problem can be dealt with before it escalates.
See our Knowledge section for more articles on employment rights in pregnancy and maternity.
If you are pregnant or you are employing someone who is pregnant and you would like to speak to a lawyer to ensure all rights are being observed, our experienced employment law solicitors will be happy to help. Contact us today by ringing 0800 048 5888 or fill in our contact form. Our team is ready to give you clear, accurate advice.