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Home Advice for Parents & CarersCoronavirus (COVID-19) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Rights relating to pregnancy and new parents

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

Last updated: 13 Apr 2022

Please follow government guidance or guidance specific to your local area, as it changes often.

We have gathered some of the frequently asked questions from pregnant workers and new or expecting parents during the coronavirus pandemic. 

You might also want to look at our pages on:

COVID Health and Safety for Pregnant Workers

All employers are under a duty to protect the health and safety of employees. Employers are required to assess the health and safety risks to new and expectant mothers at work. This includes risk of exposure to COVID and other respiratory illnesses.

The government (HSE) guidance for pregnant employees was withdrawn on 1 April 2022, along with the guidance on COVID health and safety. This means that employers are no longer required to consider COVID in their health and safety risk assessments. However, updated government guidance states that employers may still consider how to reduce the spread of COVID and other respiratory illnesses, which also applies to pregnant women.

You may find the RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) guidance on pregnancy and coronavirus useful.

I am pregnant – what are my health and safety rights at work?

Pregnant women are considered to be at higher risk from COVID-19. The NHS is advising pregnant women to follow advice to stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout pregnancy, but especially when they are more than 28 weeks’ pregnant. Clinical data suggests that risk of complications from COVID-19 increase from around 28 weeks’ gestation.

The government has updated its guidance to recommend that all employers take steps to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, including COVID, in the workplace. The government (HSE) guidance for pregnant employees was withdrawn on 1 April 2022. This means that employers should follow normal health and safety precautions for pregnant employees, which may include considering COVID-19 risks. Under the updated guidance, employers may continue (but are no longer required) to consider the needs of employees who are at greater risk from COVID-19, which includes pregnant women.

The COVID vaccine is still recommended for pregnant women as the best way to protect against the risks of COVID-19 to pregnant women and their babies. The government also has separate guidance for those who are immunosuppressed and at greater risk from COVID.

Health and safety rights

All employers are under a duty to protect the health and safety of employees. Employers are required to assess the health and safety risks to new and expectant mothers at work. This includes risk of exposure to COVID and other respiratory illnesses.

If you are pregnant, you have a right to have an individual workplace health and safety risk assessment if you request one. You should only continue working if the assessment advises that it is safe to do so. This means that your employer should remove or manage any risks. If this cannot be done, you should be offered suitable alternative work on terms that are not “substantially less favourable” or be suspended on your normal pay.

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

See our page on health and safety rights for pregnant women for more information.

You must notify your employer of your pregnancy in writing to ask for a health and safety assessment. The assessment should cover any workplace risks you are concerned about, including COVID. Maternity Action have a model letter that you can use to write to your employer to ask for a health and safety risk assessment, although you should check the COVID provisions carefully as they may be out of date.

Employers should also offer support by having individual discussions around pregnant workers concerns – see HSE guidance on protecting new and expectant mothers at work.

What if I am vaccinated?

Your vaccination status does not affect your right to health and safety. Even if you are vaccinated, you have a right to a health and safety risk assessment with your employer and the assessment may include COVID risks. You should only continue working if the risk assessment advises that it is safe to do so.

This means that your employer is still required to manage any COVID-related risks that are identified in the assessment. If this cannot be done, you should be offered suitable alternative work or working arrangements (including working from home) or be suspended on your normal pay.

Where adjustments to the work environment and role are not possible and alternative work cannot be found, you should be suspended on paid leave.

What if I am unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated?

Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated pregnant women are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill if they contract COVID-19. Therefore, the government recommends that you seriously consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine and completing your vaccination schedule of doses to protect yourself and your baby.

All employers should undertake a workplace risk assessment as set out above, regardless of your vaccination status. Under the updated guidance, employers may continue (but are no longer required) to consider the needs of employees who are at greater risk from COVID-19, which includes pregnant women.

Where adjustments to the work environment and role are not possible and alternative work cannot be found, you should be suspended on paid leave. Advice on suspension and pay can be found in HSE guidance.

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

Some higher risk occupations such those with greater public contact to COVID-19 (including health and care settings) may carry a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Employers are no longer required to explicitly consider COVID in their health and safety risk assessments. The updated government guidance states that employers may still consider how to reduce the spread of COVID and other respiratory illnesses, which also applies to pregnant women.

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.

“Outside the workplace” usually refers to other things you do in your day to day life – for instance, 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 suitable alternative work or suspension on full pay.

If your employer is being difficult, you might want to use this model letter for employees prepared by Maternity Action (but please note, the sections on COVID health and safety requirements may be out of date, as employers are no longer required to consider COVID in their risk assessments).

For more information, see our page on health and safety rights for pregnant women.

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

If you are in a job with greater public contact, there may be a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Employers are no longer required to explicitly consider COVID in their health and safety risk assessments. The updated government guidance states that employers may still consider how to reduce the spread of COVID and other respiratory illnesses, which also applies to pregnant women.

If your employer’s health and safety risk assessment identifies a risk related to COVID, your employer should put 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 over 26 weeks pregnant (see above).

Risk assessments should be made on an individual basis and women 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 higher risk, it is important that appropriate measures are put in place, for example social distancing, protective screens and face masks.

If your employer is being difficult, you might want to use this model letter for employees prepared by Maternity Action (but please note, the sections on COVID health and safety requirements may be out of date, as employers are no longer required to consider COVID in their risk assessments).

For more information, see our page on health and safety rights for pregnant women.

My employer says my workplace is safe and but I disagree

If you and your employer cannot agree on whether a condition poses a risk to you and your pregnancy, you can check to see if the risk is recognised as a particular risk to pregnant women. You can check the HSE guidance.

You should also discuss your concerns with your GP or midwife, and if they agree that a certain condition is a risk, you can ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you or your baby.

If the HSE guidance and medical professionals agree that there is a risk to your health and safety, you should raise your concerns with your employer in writing. You might want to use this model letter for employees prepared by Maternity Action (but please note, the sections on COVID health and safety requirements may be out of date, as employers are no longer required to consider COVID in their risk assessments). Explain your concerns to your employer, and refer them to the HSE guidance if appropriate. 

If your employer still won’t agree, you might consider raising a grievance. If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, fails to offer you a suitable alternative job, or fails to suspend you on full pay in the circumstances set out above, you may be able to start a tribunal claim for discrimination and unpaid wages (seek advice and act quickly, as a claim must be started within three months of the act of discrimination). If this happens to you, we recommend you contact us to seek further advice.

My employer won’t suspend me and says I should take sick leave

You should not have to take sick leave because of a health and safety risk at work – whether the risk is COVID related or otherwise. Pregnancy is not an illness. You should only take sick leave if you are too ill to work. If you cannot work because of a pregnancy-related medical condition, but you could work safely with an adjustment, then your employer must make the adjustment. If a risk remains, you have the right to suitable alternative work or, if none exists, to be suspended on full pay.

If you are forced to take sick leave and you only receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during that time when you should have been suspended on full pay, you may be able to claim pregnancy discrimination. You could argue that your employer is treating you unfavourably because of your pregnancy.

Always try to resolve the matter informally first – explain your concerns to your employer, and refer them to the HSE guidance if appropriate. If your employer still doesn’t respond, you might consider raising a grievance. If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, fails to offer you a suitable alternative job, or fails to suspend you on full pay in the circumstances set out above, you may be able to start a tribunal claim for discrimination and unpaid wages (seek advice and act quickly, as a claim must be started within three months). If this happens to you, we recommend you seek further advice.

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

Yes, but only in the last four weeks before your due date, as your suspension is an absence that’s ‘wholly or partly because of pregnancy’. It does not matter what you previously agreed with your employer.

Your employer cannot unilaterally start your maternity leave early before these last four weeks.

What if I’m self-employed?

If you are self-employed, unfortunately you 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 on COVID-19 where you can. 

COVID and 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) statutory pay 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 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, may not have much of an effect on your eligibility for Maternity Allowance, depending on how long you have been on sick leave or unpaid leave. 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.

Benefits

We have a separate article on financial support that is available if your income has gone down because of coronavirus.

To find out what government schemes will help if work has been affected by Covid-19, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have created a decision tree to help you navigate what you may be entitled to, including whether you are eligible to be furloughed.

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 your 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 of SMP. 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).


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.