Pregnant employees can now choose how long to take off work for maternity leave, up to a maximum of 52 weeks.
Legally, you must take at least two weeks immediately after the baby is born. If you work in a factory, you must take at least four weeks.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is payable for a maximum of 39 weeks provided you have worked for your employee for at least 26 weeks.
TIME OFF FOR ANTENATAL CARE
Women are entitled to paid time off to keep appointments for antenatal care which are made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor.
Except in the case of her first appointment, the employee must be prepared to show her employer on request:
? a certificate from a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor confirming she is pregnant; and
? an appointment card or some other document showing that an appointment has been made.
Antenatal care includes medical examinations. It may also include other appointments, for example, relaxation classes and parent-craft classes.
Women are entitled to be paid at their usual rate of pay for the time they take off to keep antenatal appointments.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Employers have a responsibility to assess risks to the health and safety of their employees. Where they employ women of childbearing age, the employer must assess the particular risks there may be to the health and safety of new, expectant and breastfeeding mothers and their babies.
If risks which could harm new or expectant mothers, or their babies are identified, the employer must inform any women of childbearing age of the risk. The employer must also say how they intend to ensure new and expectant mothers are not exposed to risks.
If it is not possible to avoid the risk, the employer must offer the woman suitable alternative work. If there is no suitable alternative work the employer must suspend the woman for as long as the risk exists. Women on maternity suspension are entitled to receive their normal wages in full (unless they have refused an offer of suitable alternative work).
Employers and employees can get advice on health and safety matters from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE infoline no. is 08701 545500.
Women are entitled to the benefit of their normal terms and conditions of employment, except for terms relating to remuneration throughout the whole period of maternity leave, except for any pension benefits during Additional Maternity Leave period or from week 27 onwards.
This includes the accrual of annual leave.
However, most women will be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance for this period (see Statutory payments below).
During additional maternity leave, the employment contract continues and some contractual benefits and obligations remain in force, for example compensation in the event of redundancy and notice period.
During their ordinary maternity leave, most women will be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) from their employer or Maternity Allowance (MA) from the Department for Work and Pensions. Both types of payment require a woman to meet certain qualifying conditions.
Statutory Maternity Pay is paid by employers for a maximum of 39 consecutive weeks.
To qualify, the woman must have average earnings which reach a minimum level and have been employed continuously by her employer for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week the baby is due.
Maternity Allowance is paid by the Department for Work and Pensions to women who cannot get SMP and who have recently been employed or self-employed. The woman’s earnings on average must at least reach ?30 a week.
STARTING MATERNITY LEAVE
Women can start maternity leave any time from the 11th week before the baby is due, provided they give the employer at least 21 days’ notice before they want to start their maternity leave of:
? their pregnancy,
? the expected week of childbirth, and
? the start date of maternity leave.
The expected week of childbirth and the start date of maternity leave must be given in writing if requested by the employer.
RETURNING TO WORK AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE
A woman who wants to come back to work before the end of ordinary or additional maternity leave must give her employer 21 days’ notice.
No notification is required for employees intending to return to work at the end of their maternity leave.
PROTECTION FROM DISMISSAL AND DETRIMENT
If a pregnant employee is dismissed for any reason connected with her pregnancy, childbirth or because she took maternity leave, she can make a complaint to an employment tribunal.
Dismissing a woman or selecting her for redundancy for reasons connected with her pregnancy is automatically unfair.
Women are also protected from unfair treatment at work in connection with pregnancy, childbirth or taking maternity leave. An employee who believes she has been treated unfairly on any of these grounds can complain to an employment tribunal.
Fathers are entitled to up to two weeks Statutory Paternity leave provided they have been employed for a minimum of 26 weeks.
You can choose to start the leave:
” on the day the baby is born
” a number of days or weeks after the baby is born
” from a specific date after the first day of the week in which the baby is expected to be born
Your leave can start on any day of the week (but not before the baby is born).
It has to finish within 56 days of the baby being born or, if the baby is born before the week it was due, within 56 days of the first day of that week.
RIGHTS TO PARENTAL LEAVE AND TIME OFF FOR DEPENDANTS
Employees who have completed one year’s service with their employer, are entitled to 13 weeks’ parental leave to care for their child up to 5 years from birth or adoption. Parental leave is available to both mothers and fathers.
Women who do not qualify to take additional maternity leave may still qualify to take parental leave if they have one year’s qualifying service with their employer by the time they finish their ordinary maternity leave.
All employees are also entitled to take reasonable time off work to deal with an emergency or unexpected situation involving a dependant.
Fuller details of the employment rights set out here can be found in Maternity rights: a guide for employers and employees . Employees can find out more details about Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance from the detailed information booklet A guide to maternity benefits (NI 17A) available from the local Department for Work and Pensions Office.
Employers can get more information on SMP from the Inland Revenue Statutory Maternity Pay manual for employers (CA29) available from the employer’s orderline on 0845 764 6646 or the Inland Revenue website
For additional help employers may phone the employer’s helpline.