Going back to work after lockdown

We’ve been getting a lot of emails from women concerned about returning to work as the Government starts to lift restrictions. Here, Tommy’s midwife Kate explains the latest guidance.

Legally, you only need to tell your employer that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before your due date. But it may be best to tell them now, before you are due to go back to work. It may feel unfair to tell them before you want to, especially if you are very early in your pregnancy. But if you tell them now this will give them the opportunity to do whatever is necessary to make sure you are safe and comfortable in the workplace.

As yet, the government have given no specific advice about pregnant women returning to work as the lockdown eases. But the official guidance still states that, as a pregnant woman, you should minimise contact with other people outside of your household. So, unless you won't meet anyone at work, your employer should still allow you to work from home, if possible.

Some women are considering the option of being asked to be furloughed. Bosses are allowed to furlough people for any reason related to coronavirus, and this can include pregnant workers. Maternity Action have more information about furlough.

If you are in a public-facing role

If your role can be modified appropriately to minimise your exposure, this should be considered and discussed with your occupational health team or employer.

if you are in your first or second trimester (less than 28 weeks’ pregnant), with no underlying health conditions, you should practise social distancing but can choose to continue to work in a public-facing role, provided the necessary precautions are taken. These include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and risk assessment.

If you are in your third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant), or have an underlying health condition – such as heart or lung disease – you should work from home where possible, avoid contact with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, and significantly reduce unnecessary social contact.

Risk assessments for pregnant women in the workplace

There are also some pre-existing laws protecting pregnant women in the workplace.

If your employer employs people of childbearing age and the work could involve a risk to pregnant women or new mothers, the general risk assessment must include a ‘specific’ risk assessment of risks to new and expectant mothers arising from any processes, working conditions, physical, biological and chemical agents. This includes women who have given birth in the last 6 months and for as long as they are breastfeeding. It also includes a woman who has had a stillbirth after the 24th week of pregnancy.

If the risk assessment reveals a risk, your employer must do all that is reasonable to remove it or prevent your exposure to it. If this can’t be done, your employer must consider temporarily alter your working conditions or hours, if this is reasonable and avoids the risk. If that is not possible, the next step is to offer you suitable alternative work. If there is no suitable alternative work, your employer must suspend you on full pay for as long as necessary to avoid the risk.

You should not be put on sick pay. This is law under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (section 68).

A risk assessment is your employer’s responsibility

It is your employer’s responsibility to do a risk assessment and involve occupational health to determine whether women who are under 28 weeks’ pregnant can continue working in public-facing roles. You can only continue working where the risk assessment supports this.

More information and support

It may help to forward the following guidelines to your employer, which has been published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives and Faculty of Occupational Medicine: Occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic: Version 3.2 – 22 May 2020 

You may also find it helpful to talk to Maternity Action. They have lot of advice and information about your rights in the workplace during the pandemic.