The current Government Guidance around pregnancy, work and Covid can be found here. But what does this mean?
As the guidance states, you will need to undertake a risk assessment of the role in relation to the pregnancy and work which should include the risk of catching Covid-19. The employee should only continue to work if following the risk assessment, it is safe to do so. The guidance also states that after 28 weeks of pregnancy (or before if the employee has other underlying conditions) a more precautionary approach should be taken as there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill and pre-term birth if Covid-19 is contracted.
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 to ensure social distancing, extra cleaning, the use of screens and masks, separate toilet facilities and entrances.
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 due to the number of Covid-cases in the area, the fact she is unvaccinated, and her role cannot be performed socially distanced an alternative role has been found where she can complete administrative work in an office alone or at home. Therefore, the risk has been reduced of the likelihood of Angela contracting Covid at work.
Matilda is pregnant and is an engineer. She has been vaccinated and cannot work at home due to her role. Measures have been put in place such as screens, she uses a different entrance, can socially distance and all employees are wearing masks whilst at work. The risk has been reduced of the likelihood of Matilda contracting Covid at work.
Sally is a hairdresser who cannot socially distance in her role and is unvaccinated. There are no alternative roles available, taking calls remotely or at home have been considered but there is no easy way for you to set this up to work. Sally has been placed on paid leave.
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. 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.