I am working in school and I have just found out that I am pregnant. Should I tell my Head and what should they do?
We advise that you email your head about your pregnancy immediately. The Government advises pregnant women to continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household. Employers are responsible for undertaking health and safety risks assessments. Your head should consider the risks the current circumstances pose to you and your baby during your pregnancy. Once you are at 28 weeks the advice is to be even more cautious. See the further advice below.
I am in my third trimester and I have heard I am particular risk. Is this correct?
The NEU can only be guided by medical experts. The advice for pregnant women has changed considerably over the course of the pandemic as doctors and scientists learn more about the virus and how it affects different people. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says that amongst pregnant women, the highest risk of becoming severely unwell (should you contract the virus) appears to be for those who are 28 weeks pregnant or beyond. Government advice is that employers must ensure that women who are in their third trimester are able to adhere to active national guidance on social distancing.
So, should I be working from home?
The Health and Safety Executive advises employers that pregnant women can attend their workplace provided it is COVID-secure but should carry on working from home wherever possible.
How do I know if my school/college is COVID-secure?
An employer must carry out an individual risk assessment for all pregnant employees. The HSE advises that pregnant women should only continue working if the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so. If necessary control measures cannot be put in place, such as adjustments to the job (to ensure social distancing) or working from home, the pregnant woman should be suspended on paid leave.
Our school risk assessment didn’t mention my pregnancy and the local authority doesn’t have a pregnancy-specific risk assessments available. What can I ask for?
Contact your rep and ask for an individualised risk assessment. The HSE advises that pregnant women of any gestation should not be required to continue working if this is not supported by the risk assessment. The DfE advises employers to follow RCOG guidance which says:
Our clinical advice is that social distancing is particularly important for all pregnant women who are 28 weeks and beyond. 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 your employer as part of your workplace risk assessment. 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.
My employer has told me to start my maternity leave at 28 weeks. Is this right?
Your employer cannot force you to start your maternity leave early. Maternity leave can be triggered early if your baby is born early, if you give notice to start maternity leave early, or if you are absent for a pregnancy-related reason in the last four weeks of your pregnancy. 28 weeks is not in the last four weeks of pregnancy.
My employer says I cannot be suspended on health and safety grounds as it does not form part of the school/college policy. Is this right?
Suspension of a pregnant woman on health and safety grounds is a legal requirement under Regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The fact that is not contained in the school/college policy is neither here nor there. Contact the NEU adviceline for support on 0345 811 8111 (lines are open from 9am to 7pm).
What is NEU’s position on the issue?
The NEU believes that:
- the number of schools recording outbreaks,
- the increasing infection rates across huge parts of the UK,
- the size of classes making social distancing impossible, and
- the ages of some pupils making social distancing impossible; and not required under DfE Guidance,
- many schools are not Covid-secure workplaces and so pregnant women in their third trimester should be working from home or suspended on full pay.
I have been suspended on health and safety grounds. Is there anything else I should do?
Yes, you should write to your head and inform them that your maternity leave will start in your expected week of childbirth.
My employer is being really difficult. Should I just ask my GP to sign me off as sick?
You could do but be aware that your employer can start your maternity leave in the last 4 weeks of your pregnancy. If you do take this option, contact the adviceline on 0345 811 8111 (lines are open from 9am to 7pm) for support as to whether there is any legal claim given your employer’s refusal to suspend you.
My child has been sent home from school to self-isolate following a positive COVID test in their bubble. Will I be paid whilst I stay at home to look after my child?
Government guidance on this issue is not clear, but the NEU is clear that teachers and support staff should not be disadvantaged for following Government guidance on controlling the Covid-19 virus. Teachers and support staff who are required to isolate a child at home where no one else can provide childcare should be given full pay on compassionate grounds. Some teachers and support staff may have this as a contractual right. Refusing full paid leave in such cases, with circumstances outside of the parent's control, could also raise a potential sex discrimination claim, as the majority of carers are women.
In such circumstances, and bearing in mind the lack of clarity in Government guidance, members should seek assistance from their workplace rep. If members aren't sure who that is, they can contact their NEU branch or district. The NEU will vigorously defend members in such circumstances.