Advice in light of the current coronavirus pandemic

The current Government guidance relates in particular to social distancing for older people and vulnerable adults. Please the below advice for employees who are:

  • Pregnant
  • Suffering from underlying heath conditions


Health and Safety for pregnant employees

As with all workplace risks employers have a duty to assess any risks to pregnant women. The employer must take reasonable action to remove the risks by:

  • allowing the employee to work from home
  • altering your working conditions or hours of work
  • providing suitable alternative work
  • suspension on full pay, whilst making clear to the employee that the suspension is not a disciplinary action but purely from a health and safety perspective.

An employer’s duty to take health and safety action only applies if there is a ‘level of risk at work which is in addition to the level to which a new or expectant mother may be expected to be exposed outside the workplace.’

It is possible that some workplaces will not have a higher level of risk than is the case in all public places, however it would be strongly recommended that where practical the employers could accommodate the above measures.

Can the employee take maternity leave early?

The employee can start Statutory Maternity Leave any time from 11 weeks before the beginning of the week when your baby is due. If the pregnant employee is off work due to a pregnancy – related illness in the four weeks of the expected birth date the employer can make the employee start their Statutory Maternity Leave then.

However, it is likely that a pregnant employee will not want to come to work in light of the current advice. If this is the case you should listen carefully to the concerns of the employees and if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking.

Pregnant employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave, there is no obligation on employers to agree to this, nevertheless, it may be best practice to explore these options with the employee.

Employees with underlying medical conditions

Employees with underlying health conditions does not make them more likely to contract coronavirus. However, it seems that these employees are more at risk of severe effects.

Employers should firstly try to establish whether any of their employees are aware of any underlying medical conditions and if and employees are unsure they request this information form their GP.

As this is sensitive information some employees may be unwilling to come forward with this information. Employers should assure employees that the information will be kept confidential and that the request is to try to ensure the wellbeing of the employees.

Once the information has been ascertained the employers should explore options to reduce the risks to the employees, possible options could include:

  • working from home
  • working in a separate office
  • providing suitable alternative work

Employers are encouraged in the current circumstances to prioritise these arrangements for employees who may be more vulnerable due to pregnancy, underlying health conditions or age.

Discrimination and Dismissals

Unfortunately, in the current climate many employers will be considering reducing hours, changing current practices and ultimately making redundancies.

Whilst this is a difficult time, when the employer makes these decisions they must not discriminate against employees.

Employees are protected against dismissal and discrimination from day one of your employment if an employee is dismissed, made redundant or discriminated against because of your pregnancy or maternity leave.

In addition, if an employee is dismissed, made redundant or discriminated against because of an underlying health condition which is protected under the Equality Act 2010 these employees will be granted further protection and an employer could be liable for a disability discrimination claim.

If you think you have been discriminated against you should seek legal advice from Optimal solicitors on ­­­­­­­­­­­0161 250 7771