Maternity Action, a UK charity promoting the rights of pregnant women and new mothers, has published a report this month further to conducting a survey into pregnant women’s challenges regarding Covid-19 measures and health and safety within the workplace.
It is understood that it is now widely believed by medical professionals that pregnant women are not at increased risk of contracting Covid-19. However, the virus does expose pregnant women and their babies to increased risk of becoming seriously ill or being hospitalised.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits employers from subjecting their employees to detrimental treatment as a result of pregnancy or maternity and it is also a legal requirement for all employers to carry out risk assessments for their pregnant employees, in order to remove any risks that they may face in the workplace. This could mean the change of their working conditions, their working hours or providing suitable alternative work. The increased risks associated with pregnant women contracting the Covid-19 virus, makes assessing the risks pregnant women face in the work place, all the more important.
The report concluded that health and safety measures for pregnant women within the workplace have not been ‘fit for purpose’ during the pandemic and that 36% of women interviewed felt worried about being dismissed if they took time off or asked their employer to do more to protect against the risks of the spread of Covid-19.
In addition, the report found that very few women felt able to proceed with their complaints to the employment tribunal, as they were concerned about the risks of incurring legal costs or causing breakdown in the relationship between them and their employers.
The report also made a number of recommendations. It suggested that the government should assist employers with the cost of placing pregnant women on paid maternity suspension when employers are unable to source suitable alternative roles. A further suggestion was that the length of time for a pregnant woman to bring a claim to the employment tribunal should be extended to six months, rather than three months as it currently stands.
Overall, the report highlights the importance of employers taking steps to protect their employees through pregnancy and maternity to ensure that they face no greater risk than their non-pregnant colleagues.