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 2020 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. They have since further updated their Q&A for pregnant women (July 21) and note:-
- Studies from the UK show that pregnant women are no more likely to get seriously unwell from coronavirus but pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as a precaution. Those who are pregnant, as a minimum, should follow the same guidance on COVID-19 as everyone else (for example about testing or self-isolation), though some pregnant women may wish to take extra precautions.There is guidance for those at higher risk from Covid-19 at NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- As COVID-19 restrictions ease across the UK, pregnant women who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, may choose to limit the close contact they have with those they do not usually meet with in order to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, particularly if they are in the third trimester and when COVID-19 disease levels in the general community are high.
You are advised to check the RCOG Q & A at the time of reading as advice may change rapidly.
They have also updated their statement under the title occupational health guidance for pregnant women who work in a public-facing role.
Earlier in the pandemic, the RCOG provided occupational health advice. This has now been archived.
The government has now published Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees . This guidance notes that information contained in the RCOG/RCM Guidance on Coronavirus in pregnancy should be used as the basis for a risk assessment.
Evaluating safety at work for an individual requires knowledge of both the individual’s health and their job. Therefore, while the clinical information we have published still stands, the risk assessments and the resulting conclusions in relation to safety at work will differ by country, region and between employment sectors. A single recommendation is no longer appropriate and therefore, it has been necessary to archive our occupational health guidance for pregnant women.
Information contained in the RCOG/RCM Guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19) in pregnancy should be used as the basis for a risk assessment. The most relevant sections for use in a risk assessment are sections 1.5, 1.6 and 1.7. Your employer should advise you how and where you can safely work, after they conduct their risk assessment of your workplace and your individual situation. As well as considering information in the RCOG/RCM Guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19) in pregnancy, the remaining factors involved in reaching a decision about your safety at work must be evaluated in an individualised risk assessment, conducted by your employer, that is individual to you and your employment setting. Employers are guided on this by sector-specific advice published on the UK government Working safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19) and NHS Employers websites.
The government guidance in brief (it is recommend that you read in full) says
For pregnant women at any gestation who are vaccinated:-
You must first have a workplace risk assessment with your employer and occupational health team.
Then, you should only continue working if the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so.
Some higher risk occupations such as those with greater public contact or in healthcare may carry a higher risk of exposure to the virus. In healthcare settings this may include working in specific higher risk areas or higher risk procedures as summarised in the guidance on infection prevention and control.
If you are pregnant and unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, you should take a more precautionary approach.
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 continues changing 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.