‘A kick in the teeth’: UK mothers and pregnant women fear returning to work | Work at home


Bbefore the pandemic, every morning and night was a cycle of stress and rush for single mom Emma Woodburn, bringing her two young sons to school, babysitting before and after work and staying on top of household chores .

But when the 39-year-old Lancashire woman 18 months ago learned from her employer that she could work from home, that all changed. “It was like a weight was lifted. It was less rushed in the morning. I could put the laundry in all day and hang it up during my lunch break. It was just easier.

So when last month the manufacturing company told her that starting this month she would be back in the office, instead of going back to her stressful old life, she handed her notice. “We were just told you had to come back and there was no discussion, no flexibility or anything… it was like a kick in the teeth.”

As businesses across the country are recalling their employees to their workplaces this month – some for the first time since March 2020 – family charities are warning a growing number, especially of mothers and pregnant women, is forced to do so against their will.

Jane van Zyl, executive director of the Working Families charity, reports a growing number of calls to her advice line, mostly from women “who are unwilling or unable to return to the office as much as their employer requires” .

Since April, the association has seen a sharp increase in calls about flexible working, while a third concern childcare issues. He said some employers testing hybrid models insist staff return a certain number of days per week, while others refuse to work from home.

The Maternity Action charity also said it is receiving “a large number” of calls from pregnant women fearing they will be forced to return to their offices as Covid cases are still high, leaving them to choose between safety of themselves and their babies and maintaining their jobs.

Woodburn, who works in the purchasing department, said staff at his company have been told they can request one day a week from home with their reasons in writing.

But after 18 months of working from home with no issues, she decided the sacrifices that office work involved weren’t worth it and instead decided to pursue her own skin care subscription box business. . “It’s the flexibility of being able to do this around my life and the lives of my children, rather than just during office hours, which are inconvenient during school hours,” she said.

While many companies plan to offer flexible or remote work when staff start returning to offices, there are still many that don’t. A British Chamber of Commerce survey of 900 businesses in April found that although three in four businesses planned to continue to have staff working from home, only 38% offered flexible or staggered hours, and only 32% offered work from different locations. Only 15% offered all jobs as flexible as the norm.

Kelly Saxton, from Greenwich in south-east London, said she had no choice but to leave after the company refused to allow her to work from home or suspend her on full pay in September of last year, when she was pregnant with her second child. . “I ended up resigning, which was a bit ridiculous since I had been in the company for 11 years. But obviously I wasn’t ready to risk contracting Covid and being pregnant. “

Attempting to negotiate with the company, even after being assigned a lawyer by Maternity Action, was unsuccessful. “I started to feel a little helpless, that I was banging my head against a brick wall.” She started having stomach cramps and decided to quit in October, but said she had not received a referral or even her P45. With her baby now six months old, she has yet to start looking for a new job, but worries about the impact of not having a referral for her previous job, leaving a “huge bump” in her. CV. “I find this quite shocking,” she said, adding that it is “very unfair that workplaces insist that women return to work under these circumstances.”

Pregnant women are no more likely than other healthy adults to contract Covid-19, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But if they get sick, they can have pregnancy complications such as premature birth or stillbirth. Its guidelines state that employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of pregnant women while working and to conduct risk assessments. If there are risks, employers must modify either the working conditions of the woman, or the working hours, or by offering alternative work or by suspending them at full pay.

Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, said the government had failed to protect pregnant women at work during the Covid pandemic and called on it to ‘realize’ the risk they face and ‘take action quick to reform and strengthen occupational health and safety. ”.

Pregnant women, Bragg said, receive little help from the government and are “usually left to choose between unsafe working conditions, taking sick leave, taking early maternity leave, or resigning.”

While working from home has proven to be beneficial for some parents, it is not for everyone and should not be treated as a one-size-fits-all solution, said Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, who says the Employers’ flexibility is key. While the past 18 months have shown that working from home can be effective, it is often much easier for people with larger homes and more space. “Whereas if you’re younger, living in a studio or a shared house, it’s been a bit of a nightmare,” Stephenson said.

“So what we really need is for employers to provide a certain degree of flexibility, so that people can choose work models that are right for them,” Stephenson said.

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