Our major priority, during this awful crisis, is the health and safety of our members who are continuing to go to work to care for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
- Pregnant women, women on maternity leave and mothers who are breastfeeding have specific protections under health and safety, equality and employment legislation. Many women working in education also have extra contractual rights. During the coronavirus crisis, these rights, including notice rights, still apply.
- Many head teachers and employers are taking sensible precautions and implementing reasonable arrangements to protect the health, safety and welfare of pregnant women and their unborn babies. NEU reps are encouraging this approach and are helping to facilitate dialogues around safe working.
- If you are pregnant, whatever stage of your pregnancy, we say you should not be in school. Government advice is that all pregnant women, as well as those with underlying health conditions, should work from home if possible, avoid public transport and avoid social contact. Read the NEU advice for staff at greater risk.
- All pregnant women should notify their head of their pregnancy as soon as possible to help make sure that appropriate steps are taken to protect them and their unborn babies.
- Employers have a legal obligation to assess and review the risks at work for pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers who have returned from maternity leave. Exposure to COVID-19 does represent a risk to teachers and school staff who are looking after children in schools. Different risks will arise in different education settings. The NEU has endorsed the Maternity Action briefing: Protection of pregnant women at work
- We have agreed with the NAHT and ASCL that those with health conditions which make them vulnerable to being badly affected if they catch the virus should not be included on staff rotas for working in school. The NEU thinks that same applies to pregnant women. Given the government advice, and the fact that schools can run their rotas perfectly well without asking pregnant women or their partners to be in school, our advice is that they should not be required to attend school.
- Employers can adjust working arrangements to enable teachers and support staff to work from home if it is safe to do so. Extra care will need to be taken to assess any risk that the workspace and available equipment might pose. Many roles can be undertaken from home but if working from home is not possible, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should be offered suitable alternative employment at the same rate of pay if this is available. If neither option is possible, employers can arrange for women to be medically suspended on full pay for as long as necessary to protect their health and safety. Full pay should be based on usual earnings.
- If a pregnant woman is sick, she should receive sick pay. Going onto sick pay while pregnant does not automatically trigger maternity leave. Maternity leave can be triggered early if the baby is born early, if the woman gives notice to start maternity leave early, or if the woman is absent for a pregnancy related reason in the last four weeks of her pregnancy. ‘Pregnancy-related’ could include a medical suspension related to Covid-19 following a risk assessment.
- Some education staff, such as supply teachers, agency support staff, home tutors, and staff working in independent schools have been offered furlough leave. This leave tends to be applicable in the private sector and for those in precarious jobs where there is currently no demand for their work. If furlough leave is offered, pregnant women who are still working and breast-feeding mothers who have returned to work should have the same access to furlough arrangements as their colleagues. Women who take maternity leave should not be subjected to detrimental treatment under furlough arrangements.
- While schools are partially closed and social distancing is in place, keeping in touch during maternity leave is as important as it ever has been. Heads and leaders should agree and review arrangements for keeping in touch with women who are on maternity leave with a view to re-establishing normal working arrangements when it is safe to do so. During furlough, KIT days will not be possible, but information should continue to be shared with all staff, provided there is no expectation that staff on furlough to undertake work.
I am working on a rota in school and have just found out that I am pregnant. Should I tell my head and what should they do?
The public health authorities strongly advise that all pregnant women should work from home wherever practical. NEU advice is that no pregnant woman should be in school. We advise that you email your head about your pregnancy immediately. Employers are responsible for undertaking health and safety risk assessments. Your head should consider the risks the current circumstances pose to you during your pregnancy. Ask your head to discuss with you what arrangements can be made for you to work from home. If working from home is not possible, your head should consider not giving you any work or if appropriate, medically suspending you on full pay. In either case, you should remain on the same terms and conditions. Contact AdviceLine@neu.org.uk if your head does not agree that you can work from home or be suspended on full pay.
I’m pregnant, my independent school has closed and put me on statutory sick pay, but my colleagues are now on furlough pay. Am I now entitled to furlough pay?
Your employer should only put you on sick pay if you are off sick or you or a family member are self-isolating because of coronavirus symptoms: https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay.
If you have a school rep, get in touch with them to find out whether all staff have been furloughed.
Paying you sick pay while your colleagues are furloughed or refusing to furlough you could be pregnancy discrimination.
Would furlough leave affect my maternity pay?
If you are due to start maternity leave, you retain your right to maternity leave and any pay. Entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) depends on your average earnings in the 8 weeks/2 months before the qualifying week, i.e. your 25th week of pregnancy. On 25 April, the government passed a new law so that where a woman is on furlough during that 8 weeks and her SMP pay is reduced as a result, her normal weekly earnings will be calculated based on the pay she would have received if she were not furloughed.
The regulations cover maternity allowance, statutory paternity pay, statutory adoption pay, statutory shared parental pay and statutory parental bereavement pay too, so employees are not disadvantaged in relation to these statutory payments as a result of their being furloughed.
I am returning from maternity leave onto furlough leave, how will my pay be calculated?
If you work normal fixed hours, your furlough pay should be based on the salary you would now be receiving, including any pay rises that have taken place during your maternity leave.
If your hours varied, the answer depends on how long you have been employed. If you have been employed for 12 months prior to the claim, the employer can claim for the higher of either the same month’s earning from the previous year or your average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year. If the employee has been employed for less than a year, the employer can claim for an average of their monthly earnings since you started work.
To make sure that you do not suffer a detriment because of your maternity leave, your employer might need to go back further than your previous year's earnings, and apply any pay rises that took place during the maternity leave period.
I am returning from maternity leave and immediately working from home; will this count towards 13 weeks I’m required to complete under my contractual maternity scheme?
Yes, a return to work from maternity leave, albeit working from home, ends your maternity leave and counts towards the 13 weeks’ return to work.
If you’re not able to complete the 13 weeks for a reason beyond your control, your employer should exercise its discretion; it should treat you as having returned for the requisite period and it should not attempt to claw back your maternity pay. You should contact Adviceline@neu.org.uk if your employer does threaten to claw back your maternity pay.
I’m pregnant and working from home. My partner has been asked to go on the rota and attend school. What can we do?
Your partner should discuss your circumstances with their head teacher. If you are pregnant, you are in the vulnerable group and arrangements should be made for your partner to work from home. Alternatively, your partner could ask whether there is any other essential work in a non-child-facing setting, such as in the school office. If you are in the extremely vulnerable group, for example if you are pregnant and are pregnant with significant heart disease, the government advice on shielding is that people you live with should do what they can to support you in shielding and they should stringently follow guidance on social distancing, reducing their contact outside the home.
What about notifying my return from maternity leave? Can I return from maternity leave if the school is closed?
If you are due to return from maternity leave, you should notify your employer as normal using the arrangements that your employer has put in place during the school closure period. You can then formally return from maternity leave while the school is closed.
My partner is able to look after our baby and I would like to end my maternity leave early so that I can help out during the crisis. Can I do this?
Yes, it is possible to return to work early from maternity leave if it is safe to do so. You must have taken two weeks compulsory maternity leave. To return early you will need to give the appropriate notice. The statutory notice period is 8 weeks. Your contract might allow you to give shorter notice, for example only 21 days is needed under the Burgundy Book. Be aware that once your maternity leave has ended by your giving early notice, it is not possible to restart it.
What about paid KIT days which were agreed but couldn't happen?
If a KIT day has been agreed, and if KIT days are usually paid, it should be paid where it is cancelled for reasons beyond your control and if you are still available to work it. You could offer to do keeping in touch work and hold discussions from home.
I have no one to look after my children, can I bring them to school with me?
Schools are open for vulnerable children and children of key workers including school staff, so your child should be at its usual school or nursery. If that is closed, you can ask for your children to be cared for at your school, if there is no other option available to you. Check that its insurance will cover any accident to your child at the school. If your school cannot look after your children, particularly if you have a pre-nursery child, inform your employer that you are not able to attend work due to your caring responsibilities but that you are willing and able to work from home. You should continue to be paid.
The Government has confirmed that employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities (i.e. childcare) resulting from coronavirus can be furloughed. We would expect the employer to pay full pay and recover 80 per cent of your earnings from the government if you are put on furlough leave.
During this crisis, many education staff are being asked to draw up plans for distance learning and educational activities students can do from home.