‘Could they force me to take early maternity leave?’ – Key advice for pregnant women concerned and confused over coronavirus self-isolation guidance – Manchester Evening News
Pregnant women say they’re confused and concerned after being told they should self-isolate from this weekend.
Expectant mums are among the groups that health experts and the government have listed as the most vulnerable amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While there is still little evidence to suggest these women and unborn babies are at greater risk, health bosses say the ‘period of shielding’ is a necessary precaution.
While previously only pregnant with symptoms of the disease were told to self-isolate, now they’re all being told to avoid ‘all unnecessary social contact’.
Despite the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reiterating there is currently ‘no new evidence to suggest that pregnant women are at greater risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) than other healthy individuals, or that they can pass the infection to their baby while pregnant’, the move, announced by the Prime Minister on Monday, has caused great concern among families, with many saying it’s unrealistic and worrying how they will manage financially over the coming months.
We’ve been finding out what the main issues are for mums-to-be and what advice there is to help them.
Hospital worker Vicky Parkinson
Vicky is a healthcare support worker from the Sale area and expecting her first baby.
She said: “I’m 21 weeks pregnant and work within the hospital. Could they force me to take early maternity leave? If so, I’ll have very little time to spend with my child.
“I feel like I’m stuck in limbo here.”
Danielle Ayres, specialist pregnancy, maternity and sex discrimination solicitor at Gorvins Solicitors
She said: “The government have said that individuals should not be penalised for self-isolating and we would hope that this means that there will be no impact on an individuals’ maternity pay – as their average weekly earnings will be reduced if on sick pay – or maternity leave, with employers trying to bring this forward and oblige women to take this earlier than planned, but this is subject to government guidance, which we assume will be issued shortly.
“The government regulations (which of course are extremely new given the ever-changing circumstances) state that if you are isolating yourself from others in accordance with the Government’s advice, or because you’ve been told to do so by NHS 111 or your GP and you cannot work whilst at home, you should be treated as if you are on sick leave and therefore should be entitled to sick pay.
“Whether this is contractual sick pay or statutory sick pay will depend on your contract of employment.
“You will need to check whether you qualify for statutory sick pay (which will depend on your length of service and your average earnings), in the event that this is what your employer offers.
“Sick pay should be paid from the first day of your absence, rather than the fourth day (under the normal rules relating to statutory sick pay).”
She added: “In normal circumstances, if a pregnant employee is off sick with a pregnancy-related illness in the last four weeks before her expected week of childbirth, their employer can start their maternity leave automatically.
“If you are self-isolating based on the government or medical advice, this should not be classed as a pregnancy-related illness and therefore this should not apply. We are awaiting advice from the government on this at present.”
Claire Alexander, teaching assistant in Stockport
She said: “My main concern is that the government have advised pregnant women to social distance themselves but what are the implications of this?
“I work in an environment where I don’t have the option to work from home – a primary school with nursery age – and it’s been reported that children are carriers of the virus.
“This could put myself and baby at risk but if I now choose to take the recommended 12 weeks in isolation will I be forced to take early maternity leave?
“I therefore have been in work so far this week, going against the recommendations and again potentially putting myself and baby at risk.
“I understand completely the impact closing schools will have on the wider community but by keeping them open it goes against their own advice of social distancing for everyone, not just those in the vulnerable categories.”
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Dr Morris said: “We welcome this precautionary approach as COVID-19 is a new virus, but would like to reassure pregnant women that, as things stand, no new evidence has come to light suggesting they are at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell compared with other healthy individuals. Research and data are key to monitoring the ongoing situation and the UK Obstetric Surveillance System – UKOSS – will monitor all cases of pregnant women who have a diagnosis of coronavirus.
“Pregnant women who can work from home should do so. If you can’t work from home, if you work in a public-facing role that can be modified appropriately to minimise your exposure, this should be considered and discussed with your occupational health team. We await more detailed guidance from the Government about what modifications should be made for pregnant women who cannot work from home.”
Lawyer Danielle Ayres
“In my opinion where an employee is pregnant and is following the government advice that she is in an at risk, and should be taking measures to social distance herself from others, and she cannot do so at work or while travelling to work, she can state she needs to be at home. In those situations and cases, women would have full protection of sex and maternity law.
“However, this is said with an element of caution as it won’t be the same for everybody.
“For example, there will be some workers who will be able to walk to work (rather than getting on tubes and buses) and those who have own office so they can take appropriate measures to social distance and still carry on going to work and carrying out their work.
“Lots of other pregnant workers, such as teachers, those working in call centres etc. wouldn’t be able to socially distance themselves from others and do their job as normal.
“In these cases, they are within their rights and protected status to say that they are staying at home, however, there is no guarantee to receive pay or SSP (statutory sick pay) if you are at home, unless you are still doing your job from there.”
Mum Rachel Arnison Nuttall is pregnant and has a three-year-old
Rachel, also from Stockport, said: “I’m 24 weeks pregnant with a three-year-old and I work. How do they expect me to drop my child off at school and work yet self isolate?
“If I did that I’d lose my house because I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I’m a self-employed singer that has to work as I don’t get sick pay.”
The Prime Minster has told those classed as most vulnerable: “If possible you should not go out, even to buy food or essentials, other than for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others.”
They have advised people to, where possible, ask relatives or friends for help. In any case schools are most likely to close soon so the school run will no longer be an issue.
As for financial support, those asked to stay at home will be able to apply for up to a month’s advance of Universal Credit up front without physically attending a Jobcentre.
The government says it will ensure those who are entitled to a benefit continue to receive support, and that new claimants are able to access the safety net.
And it has announced that three-month mortgage holidays will be available for homeowners struggling to manage because of the pandemic.
If you are self-isolating (which is different to the above in that you or somebody you live with has symptoms of or is suffering with the virus), and can work from home
If you can work from home, then you should continue to be paid your normal salary and benefits whilst doing so during self-isolation. If your employer does not usually offer home working or flexible working, this is something that should be discussed and plans put in place to make it possible.
I am unable to work from home but need to self-isolate as I or somebody in my household has symptoms or is suffering with the virus / I have been told to do so by NHS 111 or your GP
If you cannot work from home you should be treated as if you are on sick leave and therefore should be entitled to sick pay. You will need to check whether you qualify for statutory sick pay (which will depend on your length of service and your average earnings), in the event that this is what your employer offers.
“You may get more than this under your contract in contractual sick pay so best to check. Sick pay should be paid from the first day of your absence, rather than the fourth day (under the normal rules relating to statutory sick pay).
Will my maternity pay be affected?
The Government have said that individuals should not be penalised for self-isolating and we would hope that this means that there will be no impact on an individuals’ maternity pay but this is subject to Government guidance, which we assume will be issued shortly.
In relation to statutory maternity pay (SMP), this is usually calculated using an employee’s normal, average weekly earnings, which is calculated by taking an average of your gross earnings over a period of at least eight weeks up to and including the last payday before the end of your qualifying week (the 15th week before the week your baby is due).
This period may obviously vary, depending how you are paid i.e. weekly or monthly. It therefore may be the case that an individual has already passed that period and therefore her SMP will not be effected.
We are awaiting guidance from the Government as to how this will be calculated in cases where the employee has not yet reached her qualifying week, given that many pregnant mothers will now be receiving statutory sick pay in the relevant period, which may reduce the SMP they are entitled to.
Can I take dependency/parental leave?
It is a worrying time for parents, who are likely to have children at home because of school closures, or if the child becomes ill. In these cases, where parents must look after dependents (someone that relies on them for care such as a spouse/partner, parents or children), employees are entitled to take time off for dependents.
This is however usually unpaid (unless your contract states otherwise). Parental Leave can also be taken for longer periods of time, whereby each parent (who must be an employee and have worked for their employer for a year or more) can take up to 4 weeks a year for each child but again, this is often unpaid.
Can I request flexible working in this situation?
All employees with over 26 weeks’ service are also entitled to make requests for flexible working albeit if accepted this would amount to a permanent change to your terms and conditions of employment.
It is likely that you will only want flexible working arrangements for a limited period of time and therefore communication is key. We would suggest you to speak to your employer about suitable arrangements for your circumstances (work shorter hours, from home etc.) to enable you to continue to work whilst looking after children.
What is important is that women who are well should attend their scans and appointments as normal.
Gill Walton, CEO of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We understand this must be an unsettling time for pregnant women, but we would like to emphasise that attending antenatal and postnatal care when you are pregnant and have a new baby is essential to ensure the wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies, and we would urge all pregnant women who are well to attend their care as normal.
“If you are pregnant and have symptoms of possible coronavirus infection, you should call to defer routine visits until after the isolation period is over.”
This content was originally published here.