COVID-19 and pregnant employeesOct 08, 2020
There are two stages to risk assessments that must be carried out regarding employees who are, (or may become), pregnant.
The first is a general risk assessment that all employers must carry out if they employ women of childbearing age. Working conditions and processes are considered. This includes the presence of any hazards, which could present a risk to expectant mothers or their child.
The second is a specific risk assessment which takes place when an employer is notified that their employee is pregnant. For this second risk
assessment, the employer needs to carry out an individual risk assessment for that employee. They then seek to eliminate the risk or, if that cannot be
done, alter working hours and conditions. Where neither of these would be successful in removing the risk, the employer needs to offer the pregnant
employee alternative work. All seems perfectly reasonable. However, the issue arises, when none of these approaches remove the risk to the pregnant member of staff.
What needs to be done in this case?
At this stage, the employer must suspend the employee on full pay.
These “last resort” suspensions are, thankfully, very rare; however, the now ever-present spectre of COVID-19 has complicated matters further. At the outset of the pandemic, there was a great deal of concern for pregnant employees. Many employers were left in a difficult situation. The employee could not work from home, but the perceived risk of COVID in the workplace could not be eliminated. As such, the employees were often suspended on full pay. As with so many limbs of this unusual period, greater clarity has emerged since all this kicked off in March.
The NHS guidance says that there is no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get ill from coronavirus. It also states that there is no evidence that coronavirus causes miscarriage or affects how a baby develops in pregnancy. Good news from a health and safety risk assessment
perspective? You would think so, but caution, understandably, still abounds.
Pregnant women are still, as a precaution, classed as clinically vulnerable. This means they could be at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. This is a little odd given the NHS’ statement that there is no evidence of this. However, for employers, this status needs to be taken into account when carrying out a risk assessment. The Government’s guidance says those who are clinically vulnerable can go outside as much as they like. They can also go to the pub and supermarkets as long as they take the same
sensible precautions as everyone else.
For pregnant employees, we’d recommend the following points. Ensuring that where an employee can’t work from home, that the 2-metre rule is enforced. There also needs to be easy access to handwashing and sterilisation facilities.
Where a pregnant employee also suffers from a serious heart disease they are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. Therefore, the potential risk that COVID presents to them is greater. Whilst no longer required to shield, these employees continue to need enhanced protection. Therefore, where home working is not possible, employers should consider offering:
- safest onsite roles,
- ensuring 2 meters distancing,
- enhance their desk spacing, and
- arrange for all equipment the employee uses to be cleaned properly before the employee starts their work.
We’ve all grown very tired of the phrase “unprecedented times”. It appears to now be the go-to excuse for everything. From mobile phone networks not working to contactless card machines not recognising bank cards in pubs. But it’s definitely an appropriate phrase in the realms of risk assessments. Tribunals are likely to have a great deal of sympathy for pregnant employees. Particularly those who do not receive the right amount of support from their employer. Even if the risk is just a perception.
All employers should be thinking now about what measures they can put in place. When an employee informs you of their pregnancy, remember to write down the risk assessment and mitigation steps. Then discuss it with your employee. A note of your discussion will do wonders if ever needed from an evidential standpoint.