Pregnancy and maternity

Where can I find the Government’s advice for pregnant employees about Covid-19?

You can find the Government’s advice, issued jointly with the Health and Safety Executive, (HSE), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), here.

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 at particular risk. Is this correct?

The NEU follows the guidance of medical experts. 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.  The Government advises 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 Government advice is 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 Government 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 Government 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 has also advised eduction 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).

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 won’t suspend me. 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.

I’m about to return to work and am still breast-feeding, what should my employer be doing to protect me?

Employers must undertake a risk assessment and remove any risks identified to the health and safety of you or your baby. You should ask to work from home unless and until it is safe for you and your baby for you to work on site.

Employers have a legal duty to assess risks to new or expectant mothers, or to that of their babies. A new mother is an employee who is pregnant, who has given birth within the previous six months, or who is breastfeeding. All education settings must take reasonable steps to remove risks by altering working conditions or hours of work, provide suitable alternative work, without loss of pay, or provide suspension on full pay for as long as the risk remains.

Childcare

My child has been sent home from school to self-isolate following a positive Covid-19 test. Will I be paid whilst I stay at home to look after my child?

​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.

All parents and carers of children, whether in same sex, opposite sex, or single parent households, are entitled to take advantage of time off for emergencies if they need it. Employees with a year’s service are entitled to apply for parental leave. These are statutory rights to unpaid leave, but many employers offer some paid time off and some offer the rights to parents and carers with shorter service. Time off for emergencies, also known as time off for dependants, can be taken without notice to care for a child who has been sent home. It is usually unpaid and usually short term, for a period of several hours or a few days. Refusing full paid leave in such cases, with circumstances outside of the parent's control, could 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.

My male partner’s employer is pressing him not to take any more time off this year on the expectation that I as a female partner will undertake all the childcare – what can I do?

The NEU encourages workplace reps, school and college groups, leaders, teachers and support staff should challenge sexist stereotypes that presume that women will undertake all childcare responsibilities. Press your partner to explain to his employer that you share the childcare and that arrangements will need to be made to accommodate your shared responsibility for the care of your children. Your partner’s employer has a responsibility to consider the childcare needs of their workers, just as yours does.

While he is negotiating this, you should contact your workplace rep and seek out your flexible working, emergency leave, parental leave and any other carer’s leave policies and procedures so that you are prepared if and when you need to make arrangements for child care.

I am a single parent. My head of department has warned me not to take any more leave for childcare, on the presumption that I have a partner at home. What should I do?

Explain your situation and to seek an arrangement that allows you to balance your responsibilities. You should not be treated less favourably for seeking to exercise your statutory rights to take time off for emergencies or for parental leave. Seek support from your workplace rep or your local branch secretary. Some members have set up virtual support networks for single parent families to share tips and strategies for managing work and childcare during the crisis.