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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Rights relating to pregnancy and new parents

Last updated: 14 Apr 2021

*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) AS IT IS CHANGING DAILY*

We have gathered some of the issues for pregnant workers and new or expecting parents during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The government guidance for pregnant employees was updated on 29 March 2021. 

You might also want to look at our pages on:


What to do if you are pregnant and concerned about going into work

If you are an expectant mother during this time, you will undoubtedly feel concerned about how coronavirus (Covid-19) could affect you, your baby and your pregnancy. Download our clear and practical information below.

Key information for expectant mothers

Maternity Action have produced a template letter to give to your employer if you are pregnant and have concerns about your health & safety at work. They have also produced a template letter for agency workers.

You may also find the Health and Safety Executive advice for pregnant employees and the RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) guidance on pregnancy and coronavirus useful.

I am pregnant

Can I refuse to go to work because of coronavirus?

Pregnant women are considered to be clinically vulnerable, but not extremely clinically vulnerable, to COVID-19. Pregnant women should therefore should be especially careful to follow the government guidance and rules on social distancing and minimise contact with others. 

As of the 5 January 2021, most areas of the UK are in lockdown. Although some restrictions were lifted on 12 April 2021, the government guidance still states that you should work from home where you can, but if you cannot work from home you should go to work. You do not need to be classed as a critical worker to go to work if you cannot work from home. 

If you are less than 28 weeks with no underlying health condition

If you are unable to work from home, you can go to work as long as your workplace is COVID-secure and your employer has carried out a workplace risk assessment.

If you are under 28 weeks and do not have an underlying health conditions that places you at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the government guidance is to attend work if the workplace assessment advises that it is safe for you to do so. This means your employer should remove or manage any risks. If they cannot remove health and safety risks, then you should be offered suitable alternative work (including working from home) or suspend you on full pay. See our pages on:

If you are over 28 weeks or you have an underlying health condition

If you are over 28 weeks or you have an underlying health condition, the official advice is for your employer to ensure that you are able to adhere to national guidance and social distancing. For many women, this may require working flexibly at home or in a different capacity. Where adjustments or alternative suitable work are not possible, you should be suspended on full pay.

If you have a condition that makes you extremely clinically vulnerable, you should take extra precautions and, depending on which area of the UK you live in, follow shielding advice. However, please note from 1 April 2021, in England, shielding has been paused for extremely clinically vulnerable individuals. See our FAQ on Return to Work and Health and Safety and page on rights for extremely clinically vulnerable people. 

It is important you keep up-to-date with the differing advice in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for your local area.

What if my workplace exposes me to a higher risk of coronavirus?

Health and safety law says that if your workplace poses a significantly higher risk to you and your baby’s health than you would be exposed to “outside the workplace” (i.e. in your day-to-day activities), your employer has to:

  1. Temporarily adjust your working conditions to remove the risk; or, if that is not possible,
  2. Offer you suitable alternative work (at the same pay) if available; or, if that is not possible,
  3. Suspend you from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect your health and safety, and that of your unborn child.

If you are suspended from work, it is important to note that the suspension may only last until you are 36 weeks pregnant as at that point your employer can start your maternity leave/pay if you are absent from work due to your pregnancy.

The government has published specific guidance for employers in different sectors – see here for links to this sector-specific guidance. See also the Health and Safety Executive advice for pregnant employees.

If your workplace does not put you at a significantly higher risk for COVID-19 than other workplaces, but you are at higher risk compared to being at home (as seems likely, given the risks of any travel and any place of employment) we think you are entitled to refuse to come to work, but the law at present is unclear as to whether or not you would be paid.

You could argue that it would be a breach of your employment contract (more specifically, a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence) to force you to come to work. But this does not necessarily mean you will continue to get paid (if you cannot work from home).

The first question is whether you are at a higher risk than “outside the workplace”. “Outside the workplace” usually refers to other things you do in your day to day life – e.g. going to shops, taking public transportation. If the risk at work is not higher than “outside the workplace”, you do not have the right to continue receiving your full pay if you are suspended at home.

You could have an argument to say that, “outside the workplace” means comparing your workplace to home, because in current circumstances, most people who are not going into work (especially those who are pregnant) have been told to stay at home and observe social distancing. You may be able to use this argument to argue that you should be suspended on full pay, but the law is unclear. 

If your employer is being difficult, you might want to use this draft letter for employees prepared by Maternity Action (there is also a draft letter for agency workers).

What if I’m self-employed?

If you are self-employed, you unfortunately do not have the right to have your work adjusted or to be suspended on full pay. If you are self-employed and pregnant, continue to follow government guidance in relation to COVID-19 and social distancing where you can. However, you may be able to access the SEISS if eligible. 

For information on financial support see our pages on benefits and tax credits and the Gov.uk list of online benefits calculators

What if I work in a public facing role and am pregnant ?

The advice to all pregnant women is that if they are able to work from home, they should continue to do so. As of January 2021, most of the UK is in lockdown, and everyone should work from home unless it is impossible to do so.

If you are not able to work from home, government guidance states that you can still work in a public-facing role provided your employer conducts a risk assessment and is able to make appropriate arrangements to sufficiently minimise your exposure to the virus.

In a public-facing role, you may be more exposed to the virus and less able to follow social distancing guidelines. Your employer should treat you as vulnerable to coronavirus and put special measures in place to protect you. If your employer cannot remove the risk, you should be provided alternative work (ideally at home). If there is no suitable alternative work, you should be suspended on full pay. This is particularly important if you are less than 28 weeks pregnant and have an underlying health issue, or if you are over 28 weeks pregnant.

Risk assessments should be made on an individual basis and individuals should only continue in direct patient facing roles if the risk assessment determines that it is safe to do so. As pregnant women are considered clinically vulnerable, it is vital that appropriate social distancing  as well as PPE requirements are fully adhered to.

If your employer is being difficult, you might want to use this draft letter  for employees prepared by Maternity Action (there is also a draft letter for agency workers).

Can I take sick leave if I am self-isolating or shielding?

Usually, if you stay away from work but aren’t sick, you will not get sick pay. But you can now get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if:

  1. you are self-isolating in accordance with the government’s advice (i.e. because you or someone in your household has symptoms), 
  2. you have been told to self-isolate by NHS test and trace in England, or
  3. you are extremely clinically vulnerable and have been advised to shield – this only applies if you live in Scotland as shielding has stopped in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unless you are clinically extremely vulnerable and in an area where shielding still applies, or has been reinstated, or you have a statement from a doctor that you cannot or should not work, you cannot get SSP just because you are worried about catching coronavirus.

  1. If you are self-isolating because you or someone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus, you should be treated as on sick leave and you should get SSP if you qualify. You may also be entitled to sick pay from your employer (this will depend on your contract). To make it easier for people to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home due to symptoms in their household, the government have developed an alternative form of evidence to the fit note, called an ‘isolation note’, that you can access online via the NHS website. The government has confirmed that employees will be eligible for SSP from day 1 of sick leave when self-isolating to prevent the spread of coronavirus (i.e. due to symptoms they have, or someone in their household has), rather than day four (the usual rule).
  2. If you are shielding (currently only applicable in Scotland) and you have received a letter informing you that you are extremely clinically vulnerable and you are unable to work from home, you will be eligible for SSP for the period specified in the letter. Note that in different parts of the UK, different rules apply and shielding is likely to be paused and restarted at different points. It is important to keep up to date with the separate advice for EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

Your employer may have updated their sickness absence policies in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Check with your employer as regards your entitlement to sick pay and also the impact on your sickness record if you need to self-isolate.

You may have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and become sick, you will receive your furloughed pay (80% or more of wages) instead of receiving SSP only. 

I’ve been suspended on full pay. Can my employer start my maternity leave early?

Yes, as your suspension is an absence that’s ‘wholly or partly because of pregnancy’. Like in all pregnancy-related sicknesses, your employer can trigger the start of your maternity leave but only from the 4th week before your baby is due – it does not matter what you previously agreed with your employer.

I’m pregnant and clinically extremely vulnerable. Can I be furloughed?

There is separate guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Keep up-to-date with the separate guidance since it is changing daily.

You can be furloughed if you are clinically extremely vulnerable, if eligible. See our information to give to employers hereThis letter provides a template which you can use to request furlough because you are clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable.

In England, shielding has been paused from 1 April 2021. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable are no longer advised to shield. Although clinically extremely vulnerable people are no longer being advised to shield, they are advised to take extra precautions. The government guidance for everyone is to work from home if possible, but if you cannot work from home you should go to work. Employers are required to take steps to reduce the risk of exposure of COVID-19.

In Scotland, shielding advice depends on your area and COVID protection level. From 2 April, mainland Scotland and some islands are at Level 4 with guidance to stay local. Some islands are at Level 3. The Scottish government advice for those who are on the shielding list is that you should work from home if possible, but if you are unable to work from home you should not go to work if you live or work in a Level 4 area. In Level 3 areas, the advice is that you should work from home if possible, but if you are unable to work from home you should speak to your employer to ensure all appropriate protections are in place.

In Wales, shielding has been paused from 1 April 2021. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should follow the same rules as the rest of the population in Wales, but are also advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from coronavirus. This means you should work from home if possible, but if this is not possible, you can go to work as long as the business is Covid-secure.

In Northern Ireland, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend the workplace. From 12 April 2021, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable should work from home if possible. If you are unable to work from home, you can attend your workplace, provided your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing in your place of work, and you can travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing.

If under the current rules, you are clinically extremely vulnerable and you were on the payroll before 30th October 2020, you may be eligible to be put on furlough which has now been extended until 30th September 2021. You should speak to your employer about this if you think you are eligible. Read our page on furlough for more information on how the furlough scheme works. 

Being on furlough will not impact your eligibility for statutory maternity, adoption, paternity, or shared parental pay even if you agreed to a pay cut as part of your furlough agreement.

If your employer refuses to furlough you and you are shielding in accordance with official guidance, then you could get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), if shielding remains in place. You cannot claim SSP once shielding is paused where you live, unless you can get it for another reason (for example, your GP thinks it is not safe for you to return to work).

If your employer refuses to furlough you, you may be able to argue that they are discriminating against you, see the question on discrimination on our furlough page

If your workplace puts you at risk of coronavirus and you are pregnant, then you may be able to argue that your employer should suspend you on full pay instead of sick pay.

Effect on family-related pay

Will statutory sick pay (SSP) affect my statutory maternity, adoption, shared parental or paternity pay?

Being on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) may affect your entitlement to statutory maternity pay (SMP), statutory adoption pay (SAP), statutory paternity pay (SPP), and statutory shared parental pay (ShPP). This is because whether (and how much) SMP/SPP/SAP/ShPP you receive all depends on how much you earn in your ‘calculation period’.

When is my ‘calculation period’?

For birth parents, the calculation period is the 8-week period (if you are paid weekly) or 2-month period (if you are paid monthly) leading up to the last payday in or before the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth. You must earn an average of at least £120 per week (the lower earnings limit) in this period to qualify for SMP/SPP/ShPP.

For adoptive parents, the calculation period is the 8-week period (if you are paid weekly) or 2-month period (if you are paid monthly) leading up to last payday in or before the week in which you are matched with the child for adoption. You must earn an average of at least £120 per week (the lower earnings limit) in this period to qualify for SAP/SPP/ShPP.

If you are concerned that you may not be earning enough during the calculation period, speak to your HR department or manager to check the dates of your calculation period and consider how you might be able to increase your earnings over this time. For example,

  • you can request to take some annual leave so that you continue to receive your normal wages, and
  • if there is any work that you can do from home, then you should be able to do so and receive your normal salary (in line with hours worked).

If your workplace puts you at risk of coronavirus and you are pregnant, then you may be able to argue that your employer should suspend you on full pay instead of sick pay.

For more information on calculating pay when you have had a baby or are adopting, have a look at Working Families’ pages on:

And do remember even if you don’t qualify for SMP you will almost certainly qualify for Maternity Allowance.

Will furlough affect my maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental pay?

No, being on furlough will not impact your eligibility for:

  • statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance,
  • statutory adoption pay,
  • statutory paternity pay, or
  • statutory shared parental pay.

According to government guidance from 24 April, your eligibility will be based on your usual pay (or what you would have been paid had you not been furloughed).

Your ‘usual pay’ will be the higher of either what you:

  • actually received from your employer while you were on furlough; or
  • would have received from your employer had you not been on furlough.

If you are not sure what you ‘would have received’  had you not been on furlough, a useful starting point is to check what your furlough pay would have been based on. Your employer should also consider additional payments that you would have received, including bonus and commission payments.

Read our page on furlough for more information on how the furlough scheme works. 

Will unpaid leave affect my statutory maternity, adoption, paternity, or shared parental pay?

Being on unpaid leave may affect your entitlement to statutory maternity pay (SMP), statutory adoption pay (SAP), statutory paternity pay (SPP), and statutory shared parental pay (ShPP). This is because whether (and how much) SMP/SPP/SAP/ShPP you receive all depends on how much you earn in your ‘calculation period’.

When is my ‘calculation period’?

For birth parents, the calculation period is the 8-week period (if you are paid weekly) or 2-month period (if you are paid monthly) leading up to the last payday in or before the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth. You must earn an average of at least £120 per week (the lower earnings limit) in this period to qualify for SMP/SPP/ShPP.

For adoptive parents, the calculation period is the 8-week period (if you are paid weekly) or 2-month period (if you are paid monthly) leading up to last payday in or before the week in which you are matched with the child for adoption. You must earn an average of at least £120 per week (the lower earnings limit) in this period to qualify for SAP/SPP/ShPP.

If you are concerned that you may not be earning enough during the calculation period, speak to your HR department or manager to check the dates of your calculation period and consider how you might be able to increase your earnings over this time. For example,

  • you can request to take some annual leave so that you continue to receive your normal wages, or
  • if you can do any work from home, then you should be able to do so and receive your normal salary (in line with hours worked).

If your workplace puts you at risk of coronavirus and you are pregnant, then you may be able to argue that your employer should suspend you on full pay instead of sick pay.

For more information on calculating pay when you have had a baby or are adopting, have a look at Working Families’ pages on:

And do remember even if you don’t qualify for SMP you will almost certainly qualify for Maternity Allowance.

Will sick pay or unpaid leave affect my Maternity Allowance?

Sick leave or unpaid leave will not have much of an effect on your eligibility for Maternity Allowance. It might not affect your Maternity Allowance at all, because you have quite a lot of flexibility to choose the weeks that your eligibility for MA should be based on.

To qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA), you need to have worked (or been employed) for 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to your expected week of childbirth. You also need to earn at least £30 in 13 of those weeks. Employees and self-employed women can claim Maternity Allowance if they are eligible.

If you are an employee, then the time you spend on statutory sick pay (SSP) or on unpaid leave will count towards your 26 weeks of work/employment for MA, so long as you remain employed. And unlike for SMP (where the earnings taken into account relate to a fixed period in your pregnancy), you have more flexibility with MA and can chose the 13 weeks that you have earned the most to calculate your entitlement for MA. So you do not have to use the weeks that you were receiving SSP as evidence for your 13 weeks of ‘earnings’, if you can instead use 13 other weeks from the 66 weeks leading up to your due date where you were earning more.

As long as you have 26 weeks of work (or employment) in the 66 weeks before your baby is due, and you have earned over £30 in 13 of those weeks, you can claim MA even if you’re currently not working. 

See our page on Maternity Allowance for more information on how your MA is calculated.

Furlough

If I am on furlough, do I still have a right to take maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave?

If you are put on furlough, you are still entitled to maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave. The furlough scheme does not affect any existing employment rights.

The government clarified on 24 April that being on furlough will not impact your eligibility for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP), Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) or Maternity Allowance (MA). Your eligibility for these will be calculated based on your usual earnings (what you would have been earning had you not been put on furlough), not your furlough pay. 

You cannot receive furlough pay at the same time as your statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental pay or Maternity Allowance.

If you are receiving enhanced pay for family-related leave, your employer could claim this back from the government through the furlough scheme – see the question below for more information.

Read our page on furlough for more information on how the furlough scheme works. 

Can my employer recover enhanced maternity, adoption, paternity, or shared parental pay through the furlough scheme?

Yes – according to government guidance, if your employment contract provides for enhanced maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental pay, your employer can claim this back from the government through the furlough scheme. 

Will I be able to go on furlough when I return to work from maternity, adoption, paternity or shared parental leave?

No – if you are returning to work from family-related leave, you will be able to go on furlough when you are due back to work. This includes anyone who is returning from maternity, adoption, paternity, shared parental, and parental bereavement leave. 

Your furlough pay should not be based on the pay you were receiving while you were on family-related leave, if this is lower than your usual pay. Your furlough pay should be calculated based on the higher of:

  • Your ‘usual pay’ (what you would have been earning had you not been on family-related leave), or if your salary varies:
  • the same month’s earnings from the previous year (depending on when your employer applies to the furlough scheme for you), or
  • average monthly earnings from the 2019-2020 tax year.

See our webpage on furlough and the government guidance for more information. 

Can I cut my maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave short to receive furlough pay instead? 

Yes, you should be able to cut your leave short to go on furlough instead. You will need to agree first with your employer that you will be put on furlough: you do not have a right to be put on furlough. However, if all of your colleagues are on furlough and your employer refuses to furlough you alone, this may amount to discrimination

If you decide to end your maternity leave early to be furloughed (with your employers agreement), the government guidance states you have to give your employer 8 weeks’ notice of your return to work. You cannot be furloughed until the end of the 8 weeks, or the date your employer has agreed to can return to work.

It is worth considering that in the event of a genuine redundancy situation, women who are on maternity leave or shared parental leave have to be given priority for any suitable alternative work by their employer if there is any suitable alternative work available.  If you cut your maternity leave short in order to benefit from furlough pay, you will lose this additional protection.

Employers can ask employees to return to work part-time while on furlough (flexible furlough), so you should bear this in mind if you cut your family-related leave short to go on furlough.

If you cut your maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave short to go on furlough, you may therefore have to return to work earlier than planned. But if you still have some maternity (or adoption or shared parental) leave left at the end of the furlough leave, you could go back on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) if you are eligible. You can take SPL until your child is one year old (birth parents) or one year from the date the child was placed with you (for adoption). For more detail on how to take SPL, see our SPL pages.

Self-employed parents

I took time out of trading in 2019-20 in the first year after my child’s birth/date of adoption. How does this impact my eligibility for the SEISS?

To get support through the government’s self-employed income support scheme (SEISS), you usually have to have traded in the tax year 2019-2020 and have submitted a self-assessment tax return for 2019-2020 on or before 2 March 2021 and also traded in the tax year 2020-2021. If having a baby/adopting a child affected your 2019-2020 tax return you may still qualify for the grant

For this scheme having a new child means:

  • being pregnant
  • giving birth (including a stillbirth after more than 24 weeks of pregnancy) and the 26 weeks after giving birth
  • caring for a child within 12 months of birth if you have parental responsibility
  • caring for a child within 12 months of adoption placement

If you have had a new child, you may be able to claim if:

  • the trading profits and total income reported in your 2019 to 2020 tax return mean you do not meet the eligibility criteria for the grant
  • you did not submit a 2019 to 2020 tax return

Your eligibility is worked out based on your Self Assessment tax returns for one of the following:

  • the average of the tax years 2016 to 2017, 2017 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019
  • the average of the tax years 2017 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019, if you did not submit a tax return in 2016 to 2017
  • the tax year 2018 to 2019, if you did not submit a tax return in 2017 to 2018

Your grant is worked out using an average of up to 3 years’ trading profits, taking into account trading profits from the 2016 to 2017, 2017 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019 tax years.

If you have a gap in the years you have traded, only your most recent returns, after the gap, are used to work out your eligibility and grant amount.

Before making a claim, you must contact HMRC to verify that having a new child has affected your eligibility.

You will also still have to meet the other criteria for the scheme. See our financial support page for more information on the SEISS.

Benefits

I’m pregnant and I’ve lost my job – what benefits can I claim?

If you are dismissed when you are pregnant, bear in mind that this could be unlawful, although this will depend on the overall situation. If your employer says they cannot afford to keep paying you because of coronavirus, you should ask them to put you on furlough. Please see our page on furlough for more information.

If you were dismissed in or after the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth or after the week that you are matched with a child for adoption, this will have no impact on your eligibility for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Paternity Pay (SPP), Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) or Adoption Pay (SAP).

If you were dismissed before the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth or the week that you are matched with a child for adoption, then unfortunately you will not be eligible for SMP, SPP, ShPP, or SAP.  However, if you were dismissed solely or mainly to avoid your employer having to make these payments, you may still be entitled to them, but it may take a while for you to get them as you’ll have to get a formal decision from either HMRC or an Employment Tribunal

If you are pregnant, you are likely to be eligible for Maternity Allowance (MA) instead. To be eligible, you need to have worked or been employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is due and earned over £30 in 13 of those weeks. The work does not have to be continuous or for the same employer, and you can count self-employed and employed work.

If you are already claiming tax credits, your award for these may go up if your household income has decreased by more than £2,500 compared to the previous tax year, however, you need to check if you will still be entitled to Working Tax Credit.  If  you’re no longer entitled to Working Tax Credit you might be better off on Universal Credit, but you should get further advice as some people are worse off on Universal Credit, and once a Universal Credit claim has been made you can’t go back onto tax credits. If you get Housing Benefit, make sure you tell the local authority (council) about any changes to your income. And you should tell any organisation that pays you benefits when your baby arrives. 

If you are not already claiming benefits, you may be able to claim Universal Credit instead but this will all depend on your household income and circumstances.

Don’t forget to check other help you might be entitled to if you claim benefits, including the Sure Start Maternity Grant (Best Start Grant in Scotland) and/or Healthy Start (Best Start Foods in Scotland).

Where can I go for more help?


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.