On Monday 23 March, the government announced new measures to combat COVID-19.
Everyone, including pregnant women, should stay at home and stop all but essential contact with other people outside of their home.
This advice has significant implications for pregnant women who are told their job cannot be done from home, whose employer is not able to put reasonable safe working measures into place and/or whose travel to work prevents them from being able to maintain appropriate social distance.
There is a legal framework that employers must act within regarding pregnant employees and breastfeeding mothers.
Employers have a legal obligation to assess the workplace risks for pregnant employees and their unborn children, and breastfeeding mothers who have returned to work.
They must keep these risks under review as circumstances change and as pregnancy progresses, if applicable. They should follow these four steps if risks, such as exposure to COVID-19, are identified:
If there is a health and safety risk which prevents you from carrying out your role and you cannot be redeployed, you should be suspended on 100% of your usual pay.
If however you are furloughed because there is no specific health and safety risk but your employer is affected for example by a lack of demand or through carrying out non-essential work, you should be furloughed on the same terms as other non-pregnant colleagues.
If your employer tries to force you to go to work or disciplines you for not going to work, this could amount to unlawful pregnancy discrimination.
If risks cannot be removed or prevented and suitable alternative work cannot be found, pregnant workers should not be put onto sick pay. If this is the case for you currently (i.e. steps 1 to 3 are not possible), you should be moved onto suspension on full pay.
Statutory Sick Pay could affect your eligibility for Statutory Maternity Pay as your average income could fall below the qualifying threshold – the Lower Earnings Limit is £118 per week. This is calculated over an eight-week qualifying period between weeks 18 to 26 of the pregnancy.
You’re protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal if it’s because of your pregnancy and maternity, no matter how long you’ve worked for your employer.
This means if you’re dismissed while pregnant or on maternity leave, your employer must put the reason for your dismissal in writing.
If your dismissal can be linked to your pregnancy or maternity, you could claim unfair dismissal and discrimination at an employment tribunal.
You should not be unfairly selected for furloughing or redundancy while pregnant or on maternity leave.
If you are made redundant while you are on maternity leave, you must be offered any suitable alternative vacancy first – in preference to other redundant employees. If your employer does not do this, your dismissal can be automatically unfair. If you are made redundant before going on maternity leave you should be treated the same as your colleagues. If redundancy decisions are made because of your pregnancy or pregnancy related sickness, this would be unlawful pregnancy discrimination.
If you are a trade union member, we would encourage you to talk to your workplace rep as soon as possible. Your other rights are not affected. For a list of them, please see the ACAS website.
Pregnancy can be a stressful enough time for any woman without also having to worry about any dangers presented by her work which is why every workplace needs to have in place clear procedures that ensure that any risks to new or expectant mothers are properly controlled and that women feel that any concerns they have are properly addressed.
To support pregnant women in your workplace, reps and officials can:
For more general advice and support in being effective at negotiating with employers, read our reps guidance here.
The TUC are concerned that some employers are flouting the law, therefore we are urging the government to protect pregnant women’s income, jobs and health.
We want the Government to take the following steps:
The TUC is calling for these measures to apply to all pregnant workers, including those in part-time, agency or insecure work and those who qualify as self-employed.
This action must be part of a broader strategy to protect the health and safety of people at work, including stronger government guidance (underpinned by regulation) on the safety measures all employers must give consideration to now and new powers (via a tripartite network, involving employers, unions and the HSE) for government to compel employers who do not follow these steps to close.
This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union or an independent advisor before taking any action.
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