Updated guidance - pregnancy and Covid - uneartHReality

Pregnancy and Covid – what do we need to do? Further to my recent blog about pregnancy and Covid, the current Government Guidance around pregnancy, work and Covid has been updated and can be found here.

 What has changed?

The guidance has now been updated to reflect whether an individual has been vaccinated or is unvaccinated instead of being advised via weeks of pregnancy as before it was pre and post 28 weeks of pregnancy.  The guidance states you should adhere to any national guidance on social distancing so if this is re-introduced you will need to revise your risk assessments.

To summarise the guidance is now:

Vaccinated – As long as the risk assessment deems it safe for the employee to continue working then they can continue to work.  You do not need to take a more cautious approach post 28 weeks of pregnancy.  You should ensure that the employee can adhere to any guidance on social distancing (currently no restrictions or social distancing required).

If the risk assessment does not deem it safe, then you should consider alternative work or suspension on full pay. 

Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated – A more precautionary approach should be taken as there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth if Covid is contracted.  A risk assessment should be undertaken and depending on the risk assessment employers should consider alternative roles or homeworking wherever possible.  Where adjustments cannot be made or alternative roles found, they should be suspended on full pay.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment will allow you to identify:

  • What could cause injury or illness in your business
  • How likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously
  • What action could be taken to eliminate or reduce the risk

Action to reduce risks may be extra cleaning, the use of screens, masks and visors, separate toilet facilities, ventilation and separate entrances.

Examples

Angela is pregnant and works in a shop, she is unvaccinated and has no underlying health conditions.  A risk assessment has been carried out and measures are in place such as the use of face masks, screens at the till, social distancing between staff and extra cleaning.  An adjustment has been made to the role so that Angela will remain on the till at all times behind the screen.  The employer has reduced the risk as much as possible and feels it is safe for Angela to continue to be at work as homeworking is not an option.

Matilda is pregnant and is an engineer.  She cannot work from home and has been vaccinated.  Measures have been put in place such as screens, she uses a different entrance, can socially distance the majority of the time and all employees are still wearing masks whilst at work.  The risk assessment deems it safe for Matilda to continue working.  If she had been unvaccinated the outcome would have been the same as there are lots of measures in place to reduce the risk of her contracting Covid in the workplace and homeworking is not an option.

Sally is a hairdresser who cannot socially distance in her role and is unvaccinated.  A risk assessment has been undertaken and masks are still being worn by employees and clients, screens are in place, she has been placed in a well-ventilated area, Sally will also wear a visor and extra cleaning is being undertaken, staff regularly take lateral flow tests and customers are temperature checked upon arrival.  A message has also been sent out to her clients asking them not to attend if they have any of the Covid-19 symptoms.  The company feels that she is able to continue working in her role given the measures that have been put in place and because there is no active national guidance on social distancing at present.  Should social distancing guidance change this would change the outcome of the risk assessment.  Sally is concerned about continuing to work and will seek advice from her midwife, the employer is also considering an Occupational Health referral as they believe they are doing all they can but would like an independent view and advice.

What if we do not have any alternative work?

If the risk cannot be reduced and you have no alternative work for the employee, then they should be placed on suspension on Health & Safety grounds and should be paid full pay.  Their maternity leave can automatically start 4 weeks before their baby is due.

What if we feel it is safe for the employee to continue to work but they are refusing, or we have offered another role, but they do not want it?

You will need to find out what they don’t agree with and consider this.  If they refuse to work and you believe it is safe for them to work or if you offer them an alternative role and they are not being reasonable, then you are not legally obliged to pay them.  They are entitled to start their maternity leave at least 11 weeks before their due date if they wish.  However, it is always best to seek advice in this situation.

Can we obtain advice on what we could do to make it safe for them to work in their role?
Yes, you can always make a referral to Occupational Health who will advise you on their role and their pregnancy and Covid.  They will assess the individual based on their age, underlying conditions, health and whether they have been vaccinated.  They will also make recommendations for adjustments that you can consider to allow them to continue working.  This is always worth doing as you are gaining advice of a medical profession.  Costs would be roughly £200 for this service which is low if you consider what the cost of the individual being suspended on full pay would be.  It also demonstrates an independent medical assessment, rather than your view against the employee’s and I would highly recommend you do this if there is any doubt or conflict around whether it is safe for them to continue working or not.