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Updated Covid-19 Guidance for Pregnant Employees

On 14 January 2022, the Government (in partnership with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives) updated its guidance for pregnant employees. This Guidance applies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and can be viewed HERE.

The purpose of the update is to provide additional guidance to pregnant employees and employers of women who are 26 weeks pregnant and beyond. This follows the announcement by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on 16 December 2021, that pregnant women are more at risk of severe COVID-19 disease. As a result, it was decided to place pregnant women in a high-risk category. The JCVI further reported that the vast majority of pregnant women who were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Whilst that announcement was aimed at encouraging pregnant women to come forward to get vaccinated, it also resulted in an update to this Guidance to support both employers and pregnant women with the risks associated with COVID-19 at work. The JCVI announcement can be viewed HERE.

The Guidance is divided into 3 sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. What has changed
  3. Vaccination, which has separate sections for:
    • Recommendations applying for pregnant women who are less than 26 weeks pregnant
    • Recommendations applying for pregnant women who are 26 weeks pregnant and beyond
    • Background
    • Working from home

 

The Guidance recognises that pregnant women, at whatever stage of pregnancy are classed as at-risk and therefore a risk assessment/risk assurance conversation is to be carried out. Information contained in the  RCOG/Royal College of Midwives guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) in pregnancy should be used as the basis for a risk assessment, as well as this government guidance.

Although unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated pregnant women are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth if they contract COVID-19, that said, having a COVID-19 vaccine will not remove the requirement for employers to carry out a risk assessment, which should follow the rules set out in this government guidance.

Employers may want to consider asking pregnant employees their vaccination status to help inform their risk assessment. If employers choose to do this, then they must comply with UK GDPR requirements, such as completing a Data Protection Impact Assessment and updating their Privacy Notice. If employees do not wish to disclose their vaccination status, then it is prudent for the purposes of the risk assessment, to treat that person as an unvaccinated person.

In essence the Guidance states that employers:

  1. Must undertake a workplace risk assessment
  2. The risk assessment should be conducted as soon as the employee notifies their employer in writing that they are pregnant (albeit we would recommend that you do this even if notified verbally)
  3. Employers should regularly review the risk assessment as the employee’s pregnancy develops or if the workplace or work conditions change. (We recommend that at very least one should be completed before and after 26 weeks)
  4. Pregnant employees should take regular Lateral Flow Tests
  5. In line with normal requirements, if a significant health and safety risk is identified for pregnant workers, employers should:
    • adjust the working conditions or hours to remove the risk, where reasonably practicable to do so; or
    • offer alternative work on the same terms and conditions; or
    • if this cannot be done, employers should suspend pregnant workers on full pay (maternity suspension)

 

For those pregnant employees over 26 weeks, the Guidance recommends that ‘pregnant workers should be involved in the risk assessment process and be satisfied that their continued working in the area does not put them or their baby at risk.’

There are links to HSE Guidance in GB. The HSE NI Guidance can be found HERE.