Pregnant workers and COVID-19

Under the UK government coronavirus advice, pregnant women are classified as being at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

If you are pregnant, your employer should consider this additional risk to you and your baby.  The advice remains that pregnant women who can work from home should continue to do so.

Your employer should therefore consider allowing you to work from home.

What if my job isn’t suitable for home working?

There’s an existing legal framework that employers must follow regarding pregnant employees (and breastfeeding mothers).

Employers must continue to assess the workplace risks for pregnant employees and their unborn children, and breastfeeding mothers who have returned to work. However, now they must also address the potential risk of contracting COVID-19.

If working from home isn’t an option then your employer must undertake a risk assessment.

What should a risk assessment do?

The risk assessment should assess things such as whether your job involves interaction with people and whether social distancing is possible.  It is also best practice to include how you travel to work.

The risk assessment should also take into account other factors which could increase your risk of COVID-19 such as your race, age, build and other conditions you may have.  Evidence has shown that Black women, pregnant women over 35 and those classed as obese or overweight, or with other conditions such as asthma are at greater risk from COVID-19.

The risk assessment will be used to identify any additional steps your employer needs to take, such as providing you with additional personal protective equipment, ensuring social distancing measures are in place, or perhaps reducing your shift lengths or changing your shift times to make travelling to work safer.

Could I be redeployed or offered alternative employment?

If your job isn’t suitable for home working then your employer should consider reallocating some of your duties or offering you alternative employment, perhaps temporarily redeploying you to a role that would allow home working for the duration of this crisis, on full pay.

However, you should not be forced to take on a different role in order to keep their job.  You should feel able to agree on a voluntary basis. 

You may need to ask for support such as additional training in order to take on this new role.  It may also mean a variation in your employment contract to allow a change to your job and duties.

What if none of this is possible?

If none of this is possible, because of the risks caused by COVID-19, your employer must suspend you from work on full pay for as long as necessary.

You should not be put on sick pay if you are not sick nor forced to take annual leave or unpaid leave.  You should be paid as normal.

For example, local government employers have acknowledged that in some cases they will need to allow staff who can’t work from home to stay at home on full pay.

Read more on our COVID-19 advice for local government staff page.

Your full pay should be based on your usual earnings, not pay based just on your contractual hours.

It could be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy if an employer unreasonably pressurises a pregnant worker to go to work or disciplines them for not going to work when they have a reasonable belief that they are at risk of infection.

If you feel you have been discriminated against due to your pregnancy then contact your branch for advice.

If you are absent from work wholly or partly because of your pregnancy (e.g. risks to pregnancy caused by COVID-19) 4 weeks before your expected week of childbirth, your employer may automatically start your maternity leave.

If your employer won’t let you work from home or if you feel you are being put at risk, contact your local UNISON branch for help.

If there is no specific health and safety risk but your employer is affected for example by a lack of demand or they are carrying out non-essential work, they may consider putting you on ‘furlough’.

See our guidance on furloughed workers for more information.

You will be able to start your maternity leave as usual. Statutory maternity leave and pay entitlements do not change and the normal rules apply.

What if I’m pregnant and have an underlying health condition that places me at a greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus?

The government advice states that your employer should ensure you are able to follow the active national guidance on social distancing including any advice to shield.

Under shielding advice, you must work from home and should not go out to work.  If it is not possible for you to work from home, your employer must suspend you from work on full pay for as long as necessary to protect your health and safety or that of your baby. Your full pay should be based on your usual earnings, not just pay based on your contractual hours.

You may have additional rights under the Equality Act 2010 if you are disabled as well as being pregnant.

Speak to your UNISON branch if you think your employer is not following the guidance.