Coronavirus has affected all aspects of our lives including the way we work. Find out more about your employment rights during pregnancy and maternity leave including information about furlough.
It’s important that you know your rights and what responsibility your employer has to you – especially during pregnancy and while you’re on maternity leave in the current pandemic. Here we outline common questions and concerns we’ve been hearing from parents.
Will coronavirus affect my maternity pay?
If you’re pregnant and working, you’re still entitled to maternity pay while you’re on maternity leave during the coronavirus pandemic (Maternity Action 2020a).
The normal qualifying rules apply though there will be different conditions for freelancers, agency workers, casual and zero hours workers.
What is furlough?
Furlough is special leave introduced by the Government to enable employers to keep staff and manage any financial pressures as a result of coronavirus (Maternity Action 2020a).
Employers can claim 80% of your normal pay, up to £2500 per month, under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Maternity Action 2020a).
Some employers will top up the Government’s contribution so that your pay remains the same.
Can I be furloughed during my maternity leave?
Current Government guidance says that women can be on furlough and maternity leave so your employer can claim back the costs of enhanced maternity pay (Maternity Action 2020a).
However, you are only entitled to your statutory or enhanced maternity pay during your maternity leave. You won’t be able to get your normal salary even if you are furloughed during maternity leave (Maternity Action 2020a).
If you would be better off receiving 80% of your normal pay on furlough - instead of your enhanced or statutory maternity pay - then you will need to give eight weeks notice to end your maternity leave (Maternity Action 2020a). (You must take a minimum of two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave.)
Do bear in mind that the furlough scheme is currently set to end in October, and if you have given notice to end your maternity leave you won’t be able to re-start it (Maternity Action 2020a).
My partner is worried that they’ll pass the virus to me while I’m pregnant. What should I do if they can’t work from home?
This is a concern for many couples. If your partner has a job that doesn’t allow them to work from home, they should speak to their employer about limiting their exposure to infection while at work.
For instance, employers should ensure their staff are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a two metre distance from others, and being able to wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available) (Working Families 2020).
It could be helpful to read the Government's sector-specific guidance for employers on working safely during coronavirus.
Your partner could also ask to be furloughed (Pregnant then screwed 2020).
I’m going to be made redundant during my pregnancy. Do I still qualify for SMP?
To get SMP you must fulfil the normal qualifying rules. You won’t get SMP if you are made redundant and your employment ends before your qualifying week (the 15th week before your baby is due) but you might be able to claim Maternity Allowance (Maternity Action 2020b).
If you’re made redundant and your employment ends in or after your qualifying week, you are still entitled to SMP for 39 weeks. If you are already on maternity leave and receiving SMP, your maternity leave will come to an end when your employment ends but your SMP must continue for the rest of the 39-week period (Maternity Action 2020b).
If your employer says they cannot afford to keep paying you because of coronavirus, ask them to consider furloughing you instead (Working Families 2020).
I’m pregnant but not able to work from home. I’m worried about my health and safety at my workplace, what should I do?
Your employer must carry out a risk assessment to ensure your health and safety at work (Maternity Action 2020c).
If it’s not possible for your employer to offer you safe work, you are entitled to be offered suitable alternative work that complies with Government guidance on social distancing for pregnant women (Maternity Action 2020c).
If there is no suitable alternative work or you cannot work from home, your employer must suspend you on full for as long as the risk remains(Maternity Action 2020c).
Your employer can also put you on furlough if you are unable to work because of coronavirus (see above).
What if my employer says they'll discipline or dismiss me for not going into work?
If this happens, you could argue that they are breaching the Employment Rights Act (specifically sections 44 and 100) (Working Families 2020).
These provisions state that where ‘an employee refuses to go to work due to a serious and imminent danger which they could not reasonably be expected to avert, they will be protected from detriment or dismissal’.
You will need to show that you have a ‘reasonable belief’ that the danger is ‘serious and imminent’ at the time of refusing to go to work (Working Families 2020).
Maternity Action has produced this template letter to help you write to your employer about your health and safety.
Can I take sick leave if I am self-isolating or shielding (even though I am not actually sick)?
Usually, if you stay away from work but you aren’t sick, you might not get paid. However, new regulations as a result of coronavirus say that you can get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you are:
- self-isolating in accordance with the Government’s advice (i.e. because you or someone in your household has symptoms), or
- shielding in accordance with Government guidance because you are considered to be at very high risk of severe illness as a result of coronavirus.
(Working Families 2020)
It’s worth checking with your employer about their policy and your entitlement to sick pay, and also the impact on your sickness record if you need to self-isolate (Working Families 2020).
If you are furloughed, you will receive your furloughed pay (80% or more of wages) instead of receiving SSP only (Working Families 2020).
Know your rights
We know that many of you will be in different situations facing varied challenges. If you haven’t found the answers to your questions here, please refer to the organisations listed below. It’s worth getting in touch to find out more if you need advice or have any concerns.
Page last updated: 14 May 2020
UK work-life balance charity, Working Families, offers free legal advice to parents and carers on their rights at work with a new section about coronavirus.
UK charity, Maternity Action provide free, specialist advice on employment rights, maternity pay, maternity benefits and the rights of migrant and asylum seeking women through our telephone helplines.
The HSE website can be useful for checking that your employer is doing everything they should to keep all employees safe and well.
Pregnant then Screwed has a useful COVID-19 FAQ on pregnancy and maternity rights.
Maternity Action. (2020a) Furlough during the Covid-19 pandemic. Available from: https://maternityaction.org.uk/covidmaternityfaqs/furlough/ [Accessed 13 May 2020]
Maternity Action. (2020b) Redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave. Available from: https://maternityaction.org.uk/advice/redundancy-during-pregnancy-and-maternity-leave/ [Accessed 13 May 2020]
Maternity Action. (2020c) Health and safety adjustments at work during the Covid-19 pandemic. Available from: https://maternityaction.org.uk/covidmaternityfaqs/health-and-safety-at-work/ [Accessed 13 May 2020]
Pregnant then Screwed. (2020) What are my rights during the Covid-19 pandemic? Available from: https://pregnantthenscrewed.com/covid-19/what-are-my-rights-during-covid-19/ [Accessed 13 May 2020]
Working Families. (2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – What are my rights? Available from: https://workingfamilies.org.uk/articles/coronavirus/ [Accessed 13 May 2020]