Covid-19 - Pregnant Employees
Employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of pregnant women who are working. This responsibility is laid out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Under these regulations, employers are required to carry out risk assessments. If there are risks, the employer must take reasonable action to remove or mitigate the risks by introducing control measures such as altering an employee’s working conditions or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; or by suspending the employee on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work). This responsibility both predates and continues throughout COVID19.
At the start of the pandemic there was considerable uncertainty. The RCOG, RCM and FOM published advice to those who were pregnant making recommendations for those who were in their first and second trimesters and those in their third trimester (after 28 weeks).
On 9th September they updated this advice. They archived the statement and instead have suggested that as previously individual risk assessments need to be undertaken by employers and an on the basis of that risk assessment the individual’s work plan should be decided.
You can read the updated statement on this webpage under the title occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women:
They have noted:
· Pregnant women of any gestation are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health
· For those women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill should you contract COVID-19 (this is true of any viral illness contracted, such as flu).
They say that their clinical advice is that social distancing is particularly important for all pregnant women who are 28 weeks and beyond, in order to lessen their risk of contracting the virus. For women with other medical conditions in addition to pregnancy, this should be considered on an individual basis. This clinical advice must be considered by the employer as part of the workplace risk assessment. The remaining factors involved in reaching a decision about safety at work must be evaluated in an individualised risk assessment, conducted by the employer, that is individual to the employee and their employment setting. Employers are guided on this by sector specific advice published on the UK government Working safely during Coronavirus (COVID19) and NHS Employers websites. The RCOG is not able to comment or advise on these aspects as it is outside their area of expertise. Neither the NHS Employers website or the government website cover roles in General Practice in their guidance.
The BMA note that an employer’s duty to take action in relation to infectious diseases, is where the level of risk at work is in addition to the level to which a new or expectant mother may be expected to be exposed outside the workplace. https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/covid-19/your-contract/covid-19-your-terms-and-conditions/your-terms-and-conditions-all-doctors
We would advise that employers and employees work jointly on the risk assessment and discussing the risks the employee faces in their role and then take reasonable action to remove the risks by altering working conditions eg remote working or hours of work; by providing suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions; or by suspending on full pay (if there is no suitable alternative work). If there is any difficulty in reaching a mutually workable solution then Occupational Health advice should be sought.
The RCOG are regularly updating this page with information for pregnant women and their families and this includes research about the outcomes for pregnant women and babies with coronavirus. This may be helpful in discussions. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/
The situation is changing rapidly and we would expect that decisions should be held lightly in the face of a changing local context and associated risks. Mutual agreement is essential.