Here’s our guide for employers on managing pregnant employees and those on maternity, shared parental and adoption leave during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Undoubtedly March 2020 will have been one of the most testing and challenging times for employers as they navigate a response to the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK. To repeat an often-heard phrase, if life currently feels like normal, you’re not doing enough to respond to this unprecedented global crisis – this applies at both a personal level and organisational level.
As an employer, whether you are a business owner, organisational leader or HR professional, you will have likely taken some, if not all, of the following actions:
- Introduced or increased home workers
- Closed down parts of your operation
- Refocused resources on essential work
- Introduced social distancing measures for those people who can’t work from home
- Furloughed some or all of your employees
- Created contingency plans for managing a higher level of sickness absence than usual
- Taken additional measures to support employees in the most vulnerable categories (who are required to shield themselves for a minimum 12-week period), parents to accommodate childcare/home schooling and pregnant employees.
Employees who are pregnant are facing a particularly challenging time at the moment as they have been placed in the vulnerable category by the UK government.
Whilst it is believed that the risks to pregnant women and their babies posed by coronavirus is minimal, the government are taking additional precautionary measures as there’s a lack of robust evidence at this stage in the pandemic’s development.
We have created this as guidance in managing pregnant employees and those employees who are already on maternity, shared parental and adoption leave.
Government advice for pregnant women
The UK government have set out categories of vulnerable people in the fight to protect people from the impact of COVID-19, including pregnant women. At the time of writing the government’s advice for pregnant women is to exercise social distancing practices, specifically:
- If an employee is pregnant and in their first and second trimester, they should follow the social distancing practices issued to the general population.
- If an employee is pregnant and in their third trimester (after 28 weeks’ gestation) they should follow the advice stringently.
- If an employee is pregnant and in their first and second trimester with underlying health conditions, they should also follow the advice stringently.
- Employees who are pregnant with significant heart disease have been advised to shield themselves at home .
The government’s advice is changing almost daily in response to the evolving situation. The latest guidance is available from the Gov.UK website.
Taking care of your pregnant employees and their unborn babies
As an employer you have a legal duty under the Health & Safety Regulations 1999 to conduct risk assessments and take necessary actions to remove risks or provide alternative arrangements. HSE provide a useful flow-chart to determine actions. Continuing to work in an environment where pregnant employees cannot be protected from the coronavirus, as well as the social distancing measures introduced by the government, will contravene the law.
If alternative working arrangements can be provided, such as working from home, employees will be expected to continue working until the start of their maternity leave. If alternative working arrangements cannot be accommodated, employees should be suspended on full pay until maternity leave starts or the measures removed.
Pregnant employees can be furloughed along with other employees as per the government’s Job Retention Scheme. However, pregnancy alone should not be the reason for being furloughed as this will contravene the Equality Act 2010.
During this time your employees will continue to be entitled to paid time-off work for attending their ante-natal appointments.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, with input from the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the Obstetric Anaesthetists’ Association, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland have provided guidance to healthcare professionals for the care of pregnant women and have also produced these Q&As for pregnant women and their families.
Pregnant employees will continue to have four main legal rights whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues:
- paid time off for ante-natal care
- maternity leave
- maternity pay or maternity allowance
- protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal.
If you contravene these legal rights, you are open to being taken to an employment tribunal for claims that you’ve not followed your legal obligations as an employer.
During the coronavirus outbreak, employers have had to respond rapidly to changing circumstances and advice. In lots of cases very quick changes have been made to your workforce and operations. Pregnant employees should not experience any detriment due to being pregnant, whilst ensuring they are able to follow the specific advice from the government with regards to protecting themselves and their unborn baby at this time.
Confirming your pregnant employee’s current employment situation
It’s important to take action for all pregnant employees at this time to ensure they are being taken care of as per your Maternity policy as well as the latest government guidelines, including making provisions for any newly confirmed pregnant employees as they get notified.
We recommend one person within the organisation being given responsibility for overseeing these employees and their employment situation during this time, reviewing every situation on a case by case basis.
Here are the main scenarios:
|Current employment situation|
Continuity of employment.
Maternity Policy will continue to be applicable to your employees.
Maternity pay and benefits as per the Maternity Policy, including the right to return to work following maternity leave.
If a pregnant employee is unable to work due to needing to isolate or being unwell (including coronavirus), this will be in accordance with your Sickness Absence Policy.
Staying in contact with your pregnant employees
It’s important to maintain regular contact with your pregnant employees during this time. They are likely to have heightened levels of anxiety and concerns about the health risks associated with the COVID-19, their employment continuity and the general situation at a time when they should be focusing on welcoming a new member of the family.
If their regular line manager is unable to maintain contact, make sure that each employee has a named contact within the organisation who is taking responsibility for them at this time.
Provide regular opportunities to speak to pregnant employees with you, or their named contact, ensuring they have an opportunity to raise and have answered any questions or concerns. Ensure that the usual process is followed (or adapted as appropriate) to confirm receipt of MAT B1certification, acknowledge start date for maternity leave and processing for payroll purposes.
If you have numerous pregnant employees, consider organising group calls or videoconferences at this time to enable you to communicate general updates more effectively. However, these shouldn’t replace individual contact. If you have the facility, provide an online social networking opportunity for your pregnant employees so that they can support each other at this time.
Maternity coaching is provided for pregnant employees of most leading organisations to aid retention and enable smooth transitions. If you don’t have this support set up within your organisation, this might be an ideal time to introduce an external coaching service, especially to support your most vulnerable employees. Talk to us about our cost-effective options for Family Care Leave support services.
Clearly, we are in exceptional times with the coronavirus outbreak, causing lots of uncertainty around future employment and what our new ‘normal’ life will be like once the pandemic is over.
Keeping in regular contact with your pregnant employees, as well as ensuring they receive all general organisational announcements, will help the individuals follow what’s going on, feeling included, valued and taken care of at this critical time. This is likely to pay-off in terms of longer-term engagement and contribution to your organisation.
Managing employees currently on family-related care leave
You are likely to have employees who are currently on maternity, shared parental and/or adoption leave. It is important to keep in regular ongoing contact with them (without bombarding them with too much information) to ensure they are aware of temporary changes within your organisation and how these might impact their return to work, depending on when their leave is due to end.
They are likely to be concerned about their own employment continuity, what is happening to their job role in the short term, the plight of their work colleagues and the longer-term trajectory for your organisation. Provide reassurance and information where you can.
Look at opportunities for preparing your employees for their return to work, such as using Keeping In Touch days for joining online organisational meetings or training opportunities that can be safely completed remotely.
Employees on leave working for a team or department which has been furloughed will also need to be formally notified and included in further communications to furloughed employees.
Be mindful of employees due to be returning from leave during the coronavirus outbreak. They are unlikely to have childcare arrangements in place due to the forced closure of nurseries (unless they are entitled to the provision of childcare as a key worker) and social isolation measures. Each family will need to make its own work-around arrangements where possible. Alternatively consider informally adapting the employee’s working arrangements, extending the period of leave or apply other principles introduced for working parents within your organisation.
Testing times measuring the strength of your organisational values
The coronavirus pandemic is challenging every organisation and every family throughout the country and beyond. Employers have had to make quick changes and decisions adapting to a rapidly developing situation as well as future uncertainty. When the virus has been brought under control and we find our new normal way of living and working, people will remember how they were treated during the coronavirus crisis for a long time to come.
During this time of crisis, are you able to stick to your organisational values and the general principles of being a good employer?
In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Don’t leave out the pregnant employees and those taking family-related extended leave. Remember their personal vulnerability at this time, whilst focusing on the hope they will become the experienced contributors and leaders your organisation needs to succeed going forward.
Through our Family Care Leave support services, we are experienced in supporting parents-to-be as they prepare for their maternity and paternity leave to start; enabling smooth transitions from work commitments to new family responsibilities and back again at the end of the period of leave. These services form part of our retention services as we help employers attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams for organisational success. To find out more contact [email protected] to explore how we can help your organisation.