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Employers are breaking the law and forcing pregnant women out of work during the pandemic, warns TUC

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pregnant woman

A quarter of pregnant women have faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new TUC survey published today (Wednesday).

  • New TUC poll reveals 1 in 4 pregnant women have been treated unfairly at work during the coronavirus outbreak
  • Low-paid pregnant women are most likely to have lost pay or work since the crisis began
  • Health of pregnant women at risk as 2 in 5 haven’t had a workplace safety assessment

A quarter of pregnant women have faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new TUC survey published today (Wednesday).

A new poll of more than 3,400 women who have been pregnant or on maternity leave during the Covid-19 pandemic found that one in four (25%) had experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough.

Of those surveyed, low-paid pregnant women (earning less than £23,000 a year) were much more likely (28%) than women on higher salaries (17%) to have been forced to lose pay and stop work.

Pregnant women told the TUC they were required to take sick leave when they were not sick, to take unpaid leave, to start their maternity leave early or to leave the workplace, because their employer did not act to make their workplace safe for them.

All of these actions are illegal, says the TUC. Pregnant women have the right to be suspended on full pay if workplace risks to their health cannot be removed or reduced, or suitable alternative work is not available.

Health and safety at work 

The TUC poll also exposed a range of health and safety concerns for women who have been pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • One in four (25%) of those surveyed told the TUC they felt unsafe at work
  • Two in five (42%) responding to the poll said they had not had a workplace health and safety risk assessment
  • Of those who had a risk assessment, almost half (46%) said their employer did not take the necessary action to reduce the risks identified – which is against the law – and a quarter (25%) said the risk assessment did not include the additional risks posed by Covid-19

Government must act now

The TUC is calling on the government to take action now and:

  • Change the law to protect new and expectant mums’ health and safety: Employers are already required to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment, which should take account of additional risks to anyone who is pregnant or a new mum. The government should now change the law to require employers to undertake individual written risk assessments when they are informed that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding. Assessment of risk should involve discussions with the woman involved, and if any risk is identified then it must be removed
  • Enforce the law: The government should make it clear to employers that if the risks facing a pregnant worker cannot be removed, and there is no alternative work available, pregnant women have the right to be suspended from work on full pay. The Health and Safety Executive should enforce the law through spot checks and should encourage pregnant women to raise concerns with them (anonymously if necessary). Employers who break the law should be subject to the full range of penalties including fines

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Work should be safe for pregnant women and new mums. But our research has uncovered shocking levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Employers are routinely flouting health and safety law. This puts women’s lives – and the health of their unborn babies – at risk.

“Ministers must require every employer to do an individual risk assessment for every pregnant woman and new mum. If it’s not safe for women to keep working, employers must suspend them on full pay. Employers must stop illegally selecting pregnant women and new mums for redundancy. And bosses who break the law should be fined.”

Sarah (not her real name), who is expecting her baby soon, told the TUC: “I felt the environment was unsafe for my unborn child. I initially approached my line manager who told me “a senior manager” had completed a risk assessment for me and I was fine to continue working. This senior manager knew nothing about my medical history or the history of my pregnancy – including it already being high risk.

“I involved my obstetrician and occupational health to have a full and proper risk assessment completed, tailored to myself (as should be for all pregnant workers) and eventually after around 10 days of fighting I was allowed to remain off work.”

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