Pregnancy and Covid19 – Ash’s story

On the day the Government announced that pregnant women were considered vulnerable to Covid-19, “Ash” was working for an optician on a temporary contract after she was made redundant last year. What she didn’t expect was that announcement to lead to her financial and mental breakdown.

“I took this job, on a temporary contract (before I knew I was pregnant) as a means of being able to provide an income for the next six months whilst I got myself back on my feet.

Just over four months into my contract, the Government announced pregnant women were vulnerable to Covid-19. I tried, with no luck, to contact my company’s helpline. Eventually HR contacted me and informed me that because this was just “advice” from the Government, and because I was not showing any symptoms of the virus, I would not be paid if I stayed off work.

I expressed my concerns of working at the opticians, which was small and very busy.  It was impossible to adhere to the social distancing guidelines in such a public facing roll! Repairing glasses, handling cash and helping customers. When I asked what measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of staff, my genuine fear and concerns fell on deaf ears. Despite being in a vulnerable group, they repeated that I would not be paid if I stayed at home, as in their eyes I was “fit and well to report to work”. 

I felt confused, angry and in an impossible position. I was having to choose between my health and potentially the health of my unborn baby and being paid at the end of the month…

With so little known about the virus at this point, I decided to stay off work and follow the government’s advice, as I could not justify the risk.

When I informed my employer of my decision, they then told me I immediately needed to provide a sick note for my absence, which for two days sickness at this point, I did not agree with. After speaking to my GP and my midwife, who were extremely supportive, they told me I was well within my rights to not go into work, and that as I was following government advice, I did not need to provide a sick note. My contract was then terminated with immediate effect. With the job retention scheme announced shortly after, I realised I was eligible to be furloughed and so I contacted them.When they finally responded it was to say they would not be furloughing me as it was “their decision”.

I have still not received a proper explanation for why they won’t furlough me and only repeat the reason for terminating my contract “increase in business” which was no longer applicable as the store had to close because of lockdown.

Despite furlough being an option for them, the company has shown a lack of compassion and support, putting me under a huge amount of stress and robbed me of what should be a magical and exciting time of my life.

Unfortunately, to make matters worse, my partner is self-employed and is now out of work. His business is only recently established therefore ineligible for the government support. So we are left applying for universal credit, which we won’t receive until the end of May. We’ve both been working since we were 16, we feel let down by the whole system.

Edited by Gabrielle Nash


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