Pregnant Workers in Schools – New Guidance from RCOG

James Williams

Following our update last week, we have seen that a number of LA’s are advising that pregnant employees over 28 weeks (i.e. in their third trimester) should not be in school.

The basis for this advice was the Guidance for full opening: schools made 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 7th September 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. Employers should conduct a risk assessment for pregnant women in line with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW).

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) has published occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women. This document includes advice for women from 28 weeks gestation or with underlying health conditions who may be at greater risk. We advise employers and pregnant women to follow this advice and to continue to monitor for future updates to it.

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 Thursday 10 September 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.  The key is carrying out a specific risk assessment for every pregnant employee.

James Williams – Solicitor

James Williams

I am a qualified Employment Law and HR Solicitor. I specialise in acting for schools and advise on all aspects of employment law and HR including attending employee meetings, advising senior leaders, conducting redundancy consultations, drafting contracts of employment, advising on policies and procedures and negotiating settlement agreements.