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. They have since further updated their Q&A for pregnant women (Feb 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. The government guidance for the clinically vulnerable remains in place and you should ensure you continue to follow the latest government guidance.
- Pregnant women should follow the latest government guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) and avoid anyone who has symptoms suggestive of coronavirus. If you are in your third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) you should be particularly attentive to social distancing.
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 advice for employers and pregnant women:
The RCOG, RCM and FOM joint statement on Occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women has now been archived. Please see government advice for pregnant employees during the COVID-19 pandemic published on 23 December. (updated 29th march 21)
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. However, a study found that the majority of women who did become severely ill were in their third trimester of pregnancy, emphasising the importance of social distancing and regular hand washing from 28 weeks of pregnancy.
The study also found that pregnant women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely than other women to be admitted to hospital for coronavirus. Pregnant women over the age of 35, those who had a BMI of 30 or more, and those who had pre-existing medical problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, were also at higher risk of developing severe illness and requiring admission to hospital. As such 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.