Pregnancy, vaccination and going to work - what does the guidance say?

5 November 2021

We’ve been asked on WhatsApp about confusion around the current guidance on going into work during pregnancy—and whether it has changed, particularly after 28 weeks or after vaccination. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says that if you’re pregnant, you’re at the highest risk of becoming severely unwell from Covid-19 after 28 weeks. 

With more people who may have been working from home earlier in the pandemic now going into work, we’ve taken a look at the guidance to try and give you a sense of what, if anything, has changed. 

In short, the government has not said that pregnant employees should not go into work. 

However, pregnant employees are advised to take a “precautionary approach” unless fully vaccinated, although we have been told there is no legal definition of this term. 

What does government guidance say?

Until recently, the government has provided advice based on whether an employee is more than 28 weeks pregnant.

This has now changed, and the guidance instead varies depending on whether you are fully vaccinated. 

The guidance states that all pregnant employees, regardless of vaccination status, should have a workplace risk assessment with their employer and occupational health team and then only continue to work if that assessment says it is safe to do so. The guidance says any risks identified should be removed or managed and any active national guidance on social distancing adhered to. If this can’t be done, you should be offered suitable alternative work or working arrangements, such as working from home, or be suspended on your normal pay. 

The RCOG guidance on Covid-19 in pregnancy should be used as the basis for a risk assessment. It says the most relevant sections are 1.5 to 1.7.

It also says changes necessary to ensure safety at work depend on an individual’s health and their job and that risk assessments will “differ by country, region and between employment sectors”.

Although not designed specifically for pregnant employees, government guidance on working safely during Covid-19 includes advice for most major industries on what to expect from a risk assessment.

What if I’m not fully vaccinated?

The most recent government guidance for pregnant employees who have either not been vaccinated or are not yet fully vaccinated advises a more “precautionary approach” as they “have an increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth if you contract Covid-19”.

We asked the Department for Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to explain what a “precautionary approach” means in practice—and what if any additional rights it means you have as an employee—but have yet to receive an answer addressing that point.

Danielle Ayres, an employment law partner at Gorvins Solicitors and legal advisor for Pregnant Then Screwed, previously told us there is no legal definition of what a “precautionary approach” means in practice. 

What should I do after 28 weeks?

Some readers have told us they’ve heard about previous guidance stating that after 28 weeks of pregnancy employees should stop going into work, effectively shielding.

However, as the RCOG states, this has actually never been specifically advised unless you have an underlying health condition that would put you at additional risk. 

The RCOG says: “Anecdotally, some employers have treated pregnant women at or beyond 28 weeks gestation in the same way as people who are shielding, but this was not part of the official occupational health advice from the government."

The new government guidance also mentions the end of its shielding programme, which in England included among its Shielded Patient List “women who are pregnant with significant congenital or acquired heart disease”. Pregnant women with these conditions in Scotland continue to be on the Scottish government’s Highest Risk List.

The information included in this article contains the latest evidence and official guidance available at the time it was written. This is not a substitute for medical advice. If you require specific medical advice please consult your GP or midwife.

Update 12 November 2021

This article has been updated to reflect the latest government guidance on Covid-19 for pregnant employees in the workplace.

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