Pregnant Workers in Schools – Guidance from RCOG

John Cook

We are seeing increasing requests in relation to pregnant employees over 28 weeks (i.e. in their third trimester) to be working from home.

The basis for these requests was because the Guidance for full opening: schools makes specific reference to Occupational Health guidance published by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG).  Part of that guidance, which schools were being urged to follow, related to pregnant workers in the healthcare sector.

On 10th September, the RCOG guidance was archived and replaced with new guidance which, in summary, recommends that an individual risk assessment is the key.  There is, therefore, no blanket advice that a pregnant employee over 28 weeks should not be in school.

The School Guidance
Guidance for full opening: schools – Updated 5th November 2020
Staff who are pregnant
Pregnant women are in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ category and are generally advised to follow the above advice, which applies to all staff in schools. More guidance and advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) and pregnancy is available from the Royal College of Gynaecologists. All pregnant women should take particular care to practise frequent, thorough hand washing, and cleaning of frequently touched areas in their home or workspace.

An employer’s workplace risk assessment should already consider any risks to female employees of childbearing age and, in particular, risks to new and expectant mothers (for example, from working conditions, or the use of physical, chemical or biological agents). Any risks identified must be included and managed as part of the general workplace risk assessment.

If a school is notified that an employee is pregnant, breastfeeding or has given birth within the last 6 months, the employer should check the workplace risk assessment to see if any new risks have arisen. If risks are identified during the pregnancy, in the first 6 months after birth or while the employee is still breastfeeding, the employer must take appropriate, sensible action to reduce, remove or control them.

While it is a legal obligation for employers to regularly review general workplace risks, there is not necessarily a requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for new and expectant mothers. However, an assessment may help identify any additional action that needs to be taken to mitigate risks.

We recommend that schools follow the same principles for pregnant pupils, in line with their wider health and safety obligations.

The new RCOG Guidance
There are two parts to the guidance which were both updated on 10th September 2020.

Information for pregnant women and their families
Q&As relating to this guidance – updated 14 October 2020

Q. What is the main advice for pregnant women?
There is no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus but pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as a precaution. The government guidance for the clinically vulnerable remains in place and you should ensure you continue to follow the latest government guidance.

Pregnant women should follow the latest government guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) and avoid anyone who has symptoms suggestive of coronavirus. If you are in your third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) you should be particularly attentive to social distancing.

Occupational health advice  – statement
Published Thursday 10 September 2020

Clinical guidance:

  • Pregnant women of any gestation are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health
  • For those women who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill should you contract COVID-19 (this is true of any viral illness contracted, such as flu).

A note on archiving the Occupational Health advice document:
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine document, Occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic was written for implementation at the peak of the pandemic. At this time, there was a clear instruction from the UK government that clinically vulnerable individuals were advised to stringently apply social distancing measures and extremely clinically vulnerable individuals were advised to shield.

The situation has now changed. The governments of all four UK countries have eased some restrictions on lockdown, which has led to changes in advice given to extremely vulnerable individuals (those who have been shielding) and the implementation of social distancing measures now varies across regions and UK countries according to virus prevalence.

There is now a more complex landscape of factors to consider regarding the safety of people (including pregnant women) in the workplace. Therefore, while the clinical information we have published still stands, the risk assessments and the resulting conclusions in relation to safety at work are expected to differ between employment sectors and by region and country, and therefore, a single recommendation is no longer appropriate.

We believe that the UK Government has a role to play in providing guidance about work during pregnancy and we hope to see additional Government-led guidance soon. We continue to liaise with the Government to request this support for pregnant women in different areas of the UK, working in different settings.

Our clinical advice is that social distancing is particularly important for all pregnant women who are 28 weeks and beyond, in order to lessen their risk of contracting the virus. 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.

The confusion has now been addressed and it would appear that current requests to work from home are seeking to rely on out of date guidance.  The key is carrying out a specific risk assessment for every pregnant employee.

John Cook – Solicitor

John Cook

I am a qualified Solicitor with over 30 years’ experience running a business, managing a team, appearing in the Employment Tribunal and advising on almost every conceivable employment law and HR issue. Clients appreciate my down to earth and straight forward approach that allows them to achieve results and manage their organisation more effectively. I take the worry out of employment law and HR issues with a proactive and robust approach.