More than a third of pregnant women fear losing their jobs over Covid safety concerns, according to a survey.
Maternity Action, which claims that health and safety rules for pregnant women in the workplace are “not fit for purpose”, found that 36% of women who were pregnant during the pandemic said they felt worried about losing their job if they took time off or asked their employer to do more to protect them from Covid.
More than two-thirds (69%) of pregnant women said they were fairly or very worried about catching Covid because of their work.
A fifth of respondents (20%) said they took time off or even left their job because they were so concerned about catching Covid.
The situation for pregnant women is dire and is only getting worse as the pandemic progresses” – Ros Bragg, Maternity Action
It’s calling on government to support businesses with funding for paid maternity suspensions to ensure that pregnant women aren’t under pressure to work in unsafe environments.
Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action said the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities were “wholly inadequate” when it came to enforcing workplace health and safety, leaving women faced with an impossible choice of taking their employer to a tribunal or carry on working in unsafe conditions.
“The situation for pregnant women is dire and is only getting worse as the pandemic progresses,” she said.
“A third of pregnant women have worried about losing their jobs because of Covid safety concerns and they are frankly right to be worried – because the system that is supposed to protect them is not fit for purpose.
“There is a vast gap between these what the law says and actual employer practice, leaving women under huge pressure to work in unsafe conditions.”
The report claimed that HSE guidance on individual risk assessments was incorrect because they ignored recent case law.
Health and safety law requires employers to carry out risk assessments for each pregnant woman and to remove risks. This could involve changes to working conditions and hours of work or provision of suitable alternative work. If these options are not available, employers must suspend women on full pay.
Women in agency work or other insecure contracts have fewer health and safety rights and are in a weaker negotiating position, the report points out.
Maternity Action said it had found that HSE and local authority officers had neither provided the detailed advice required by women and their employers nor taken action to ensure appropriate adjustments are made in workplaces. Cuts to funding to HSE and Local Authorities were a factor.
Few women took the route of employment tribunals, the charity stated, because of costs, the souring of relationships with employers and the time involved.
The report accused the Prime Minister and chief medical officer of providing conflicting advice which led to a substantial number of pregnant women being unlawfully sent home on statutory sick pay or unpaid leave rather than paid maternity suspension.
Adding to the confusion in 2020 was the fact that the furlough scheme guidance made no mention of pregnant women, the report’s authors stated, adding that government guidance on health and safety for pregnant workers in the pandemic was not released until December 2020 and was not promoted.