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

Last updated: 13 Oct 2021

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

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 20 July 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. Please note, the part about furlough is out of date as furlough has ended, the rest of the information on the information sheet is up to date,

Key information for expectant mothers

Health and Safety Protections for Pregnant Workers

Employers are required to assess the health and safety risks to new and expectant mothers at work. This includes risk of exposure to COVID-19. You might want to show the document of key information below to your employer.

Key Info for Employers – H&S for pregnant workers

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. Please note, parts of these letters may be out of date in light of the recent lifting of restrictions.

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 careful to follow the government guidance and rules on social distancing and minimise contact with others. 

Most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. The government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. Home working may still be recommended where a risk assessment suggests that your workplace is not safe given your pregnancy. 

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

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 condition 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. Since 19 July there is no formal requirement to socially distance, but the government continues to recommend that people minimise the number, proximity and duration of social contacts.

Your employer should take into account the ongoing risks posed by COVID-19 in agreeing your working pattern. 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. Following the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions, 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.

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). Please note, the part about furlough is out of date as furlough has ended.

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. 

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 current 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 measures. 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 public 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 measures are put in place, for example social distancing and PPE requirements.

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 or someone you live with has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
  2. you’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID-19
  3. someone in your support bubble (or your ‘extended household’ if you live in Scotland or Wales) has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
  4. you’ve been advised by a doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery

Shielding for people previously identified a clinically extremely vulnerable has been paused so you can no longer get SSP on this basis.

  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). From 16 August, if you are fully vaccinated or aged under 18 years and 6 months you will not be required to self-isolate if you are a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

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.  

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.

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?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) ended on 30 September 2021. Employers will not be able to furlough staff after this date. The below information may be useful for you if you are intending to bring a claim in respect of a period prior to 30 September 2021 when you were furloughed or thought you ought to be furloughed.

No, having been 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 Maternity Allowance 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?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) ended on 30 September 2021. Employers will not be able to furlough staff after this date. The below information may be useful for you if you are intending to bring a claim in respect of a period prior to 30 September 2021 when you were furloughed or thought you ought to be furloughed.

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

The government clarified on 24 April that being on furlough does not impact 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 statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental pay or Maternity Allowance.

If you were 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 worked. 

Could 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 could claim this back from the government through the furlough scheme.  

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) ended on 30 September 2021. Employers will not be able to furlough staff after this date. The above information may be useful for you if you are intending to bring a claim in respect of a period prior to 30 September 2021 when you were furloughed or thought you ought to be furloughed.

Self-employed parents

I am self-employed and claimed SEISS. Can I still be eligible for Maternity Allowance?

Yes. Your Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant will have no impact on your eligibility for Maternity Allowance (MA).

To be eligible for MA, you should be engaged in paid work in at least 26 weeks of paid work in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due date, earning at least £30 per week in 13 of those weeks. There are some exceptions (i.e. If you carry out unpaid work for your self-employed spouse), but this is the general rule.

The SIESS grant is subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance Contributions. It must be reported on your 2021 to 2022 Self Assessment tax return.

Claiming the SEISS grant will have no impact on your eligibility for MA, as long as you were available for work but not able to work because of the pandemic, and you still have liability for Class 2 NI contributions. When you’re completing the form for Maternity Allowance, you should put your last day of work as the last day that you would have worked if you hadn’t been unable to work due to coronavirus (e.g., the day you would want your maternity leave to start).

For more information, see the government guidance on Maternity Allowance.

My partner is self-employed and claimed the SEISS. Can I still qualify for Shared Parental Leave/Pay?

If one partner claimed the SEISS, it should have no impact on the other partner’s eligibility for Shared Parental Leave and Pay. The grant is subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance Contributions. It must be reported on your 2021 to 2022 Self Assessment tax return.

To qualify for SPL, the person taking the leave must:

  1. have been employed continuously for a least 26 weeks by the end of the ‘qualifying week’ (the 15th week before the week in which the baby is due to be born); and
  2. be employed by the same employer while they take SPL.

The partner of the person taking the leave must have, during the 66 weeks before the baby is due:

  1. been working for at least 26 weeks (they don’t need to be consecutive weeks); and
  2. earned at least £30 a week on average in 13 of the 66 weeks.

The partner who is taking ShPP must:

  • pass the ‘continuity of employment test’ and their partner must satisfy the employment and earnings test
  • earn at least £120 per week on average in the 8 weeks before the end of the qualifying week

If your partner is claiming SEISS because s/he cannot work due to COVID, s/he is still treated as having been working and meeting the earnings requirement.

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 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 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.