The position regarding pregnant staff in schools has caused much uncertainty since the Covid 19 outbreak began. With schools set to fully re-open on 8th March schools’ obligations in relation to pregnant staff are again under the spot light.
The latest position is contained in the Department for Education’s document “Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance” and “Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees” - Updated 26 February 2021 (the “guidance”). The guidance makes it clear that pregnant staff are considered to be clinically vulnerable (“CV”) and in some cases could be clinically extremely vulnerable (“CEV”).
The guidance differentiates as follows:
- Pregnant staff who are under 28 weeks pregnant and/or have no underlying health conditions that place them at a greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19; and
- Pregnant staff who are over 28 weeks pregnant or have an underlying health condition which places them at a greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
The guidance is clear that staff in the first group can continue to attend school, as long as they follow the system of controls as set out in the guidance and a risk assessment supports this attendance. Equally those members of staff who live with a pregnant person can continue to attend work as normal.
It is recommended that those in the second group above should take a more precautionary approach. The guidance suggests that employers “should consider both how to redeploy these staff and how to maximise the potential for homeworking, wherever possible” and that “for many workers, this may require working flexibly from home in a different capacity.”
Individual risk assessments should be carried out in relation to pregnant staff across the board (irrespective of whether they fall into either of the above categories). The guidance suggests that as part of that risk assessment, schools should consider adapting duties and/or facilitating home working to mitigate risks. However, implementing these specific measures is not essential and there is no default right for a pregnant member of staff to work at home subject to a robust risk assessment being in place which supports their attendance in the workplace. Clearly if the member of staff has received a shielding letter this would not be the case and they should stay at home.
The guidance states that for all members of staff who are pregnant, employers should ensure the pregnant employee is able to adhere to any active national guidance on social distancing in particular. Schools will note in particular that the guidance separately acknowledges that younger children and/or those with complex needs will not be able to maintain social distancing. As such, schools will need to consider in detail as part of their risk assessments, whether it would be feasible or appropriate for a pregnant member of staff to be engaged in a part of the school where social distancing is not possible or expected.