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Information correct as of 12 Noon 17.03.2020

Coronavirus: Pregnancy at work guidance

Guidelines announced yesterday (16.03.2020) by Prime Minister Boris Johnson listed a number of key new measures for the UK in order to minimise the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the guidelines, the PM declared that pregnant women should now be included in the ‘at risk’ group of people who should be particularly stringent in their minimisation of social contact and should self-isolate for up to twelve weeks (beginning this weekend). This is addition to the over 70s and those adults who would normally be advised to have the flu vaccine.

This change is causing major concerns for many pregnant women and their employers in what steps to take next. Although we are still waiting to hear more from the Government on this, we’ve received a number of calls already and can offer the following information based on situations we are hearing about from pregnant women at the current time.

My employer says I have to go into work.

As a Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination specialist lawyer I have been consulting with legal advisors from Working Families, Maternity Action, ACAS and EHRC. Together we have agreed upon what we believe to be the position.

In our opinion, pregnant women that say expressly to their employer “I am pregnant, I have been advised by the government that I am at risk and I should be taking measures to social distance myself from others, and I cannot do that at work or while travelling to work. I, therefore, need to either work from home or be at home”, in those situations and cases women would have the full protection of sex and maternity law.

However, this is said with an element of caution as it won’t be the same for everybody. There will be some workers who will be able to walk to work (rather than getting on tubes and buses) and those who have their own office so they can take appropriate measures to social distance and carry out their work.

Lots of other pregnant workers, such as teachers, those working in call centres etc. wouldn’t be able to socially distance themselves from others. So it’s within their rights and protected status to say “I’m staying at home”.

Currently, there is no guarantee to receive pay or SSP (statutory sick pay) if you’re at home unless you are doing your job from there.

If you are self-isolating (which is different to the above in that you or somebody you live with has symptoms of or is suffering with the virus), and can work from home.

If you can work from home, then you should continue to be paid your normal salary and benefits whilst doing so in self-isolation. If your employer does not usually offer home-working or flexible working, this is something that should be discussed and plans put in place to make it possible.

I am unable to work from home but need to self-isolate as I or somebody in my household has symptoms or is suffering with the virus / I have been told to do so by NHS 111 or your GP.

If you cannot work from home you should be treated as if you are on sick leave and therefore should be entitled to sick pay. You will need to check whether you qualify for statutory sick pay (which will depend on your length of service and your average earnings), in the event that this is what your employer offers.

You may get more than this under your contract in contractual sick pay, so it’s best to check.  Sick pay should be paid from the first day of your absence, rather than the fourth day (under the normal rules relating to statutory sick pay).

Can my employer force me to take early maternity leave?

In normal circumstances, if a pregnant employee is off sick with a pregnancy-related illness in the last four weeks before her expected week of childbirth, their employer can start their maternity leave automatically. 

If you are self-isolating based on the Government advice, this should not be classed as a pregnancy-related illness and therefore this should not apply.  We are awaiting advice from the Government on this at present.

Will my maternity pay be affected?

The Government have said that individuals should not be penalised for self-isolating and we would hope that this means that there will be no impact on an individuals’ maternity pay but this is subject to Government guidance, which we assume will be issued shortly.

In relation to statutory maternity pay (SMP), this is usually calculated using an employee’s normal, average weekly earnings, which is calculated by taking an average of your gross earnings over a period of at least eight weeks up to and including the last payday before the end of your qualifying week (the 15th week before the week your baby is due).   This period may obviously vary, depending how you are paid i.e. weekly or monthly.  It therefore may be the case that an individual has already passed that period and therefore her SMP will not be effected.

We are awaiting guidance from the Government as to how this will be calculated in cases where the employee has not yet reached her qualifying week, given that many pregnant mothers will now be receiving statutory sick pay in the relevant period, which may reduce the SMP they are entitled to.

Can I take dependency/parental leave?

It is a worrying time for parents, who are likely to have children at home because of school closures, or if the child becomes ill.  In these cases, where parents must look after dependents (someone that relies on them for care such as a spouse/partner, parents or children), employees are entitled to take time off for dependents.

This is however usually unpaid (unless your contract states otherwise). Parental Leave can also be taken for longer periods of time, whereby each parent (who must be an employee and have worked for their employer for a year or more) can take up to 4 weeks a year for each child but again, this is often unpaid. 

Can I request flexible working in this situation?

All employees with over 26 weeks’ service are also entitled to make requests for flexible working albeit if accepted this would amount to a permanent change to your terms and conditions of employment. 

It is likely that you will only want flexible working arrangements for a limited period of time and therefore communication is key.  We would suggest you to speak to your employer about suitable arrangements for your circumstances (work shorter hours, from home etc.) to enable you to continue to work whilst looking after children.

Your Enquiries

We ourselves are receiving updated information on a regular basis and will be keeping this page as current as possible. If you cannot find the information you need here, please contact our employment team or call 0161 930 5151 with more details (please note we are receiving a high number of enquiries at this current time).

Other Useful Sources

There are also a number of other sources available including:

Maternity Related Content

  1. Why good communication matters during maternity leave
  2. Postnatal Depression, Maternity Leave and Returning to Work
  3. ACAS publishes new guidance on Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination
  4. Family-Friendly Policies | Working Parents Rights
  5. Maternity Pay – All You Need to Know
  6. EHRC Report – Legal Support for Maternity Leave