Baby and You

Know your rights

The world of maternity rights can sometimes feel like a maze. Nat Barnes leads you through the process

I’m having a baby, do I need to tell my employer?

Firstly, congratulations. Secondly, we understand that not everyone wants to tell their employer their news immediately. However, without stating the obvious, it’ll become rather less easy to hide before long and you must tell them about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the baby is due. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, then they should be told as soon as you can.

When your employer knows about your pregnancy, they should assess any health and safety risks to you and your baby, such as heavy lifting, exposure to toxic substances, long working hours and standing or sitting for long periods without a break. Where there are risks, your employer needs to take reasonable steps to remove them. If that isn’t possible, then they should offer suitable alternative work or suspend you on full pay.

What if my employer disagrees about that risk or I’m discriminated against for being pregnant?

Then you should talk to your trade union or health and safety representative. The next step is to speak to the Health and Safety Executive or Acas.

When can I start my maternity leave?

You can either continue working right up until you give birth or start your maternity leave up to 11 weeks before your baby arrives.

Once your baby arrives, compulsory maternity leave means you must take at least two weeks off (or four weeks if you work in a factory) and also take all of that in one go.

If you’re absent from work because of your pregnancy in the four weeks before your baby is due, then your maternity leave starts automatically the day after your first day off. Also, if your baby is born earlier than expected, then your leave starts immediately.

You also still accrue holiday entitlement during maternity leave, so talk to your employer about whether to take that after your maternity leave or after you return to work.

What are my maternity rights?

As well as that protection against unfair treatment or discrimination, you have three other main maternity rights – paid time off for antenatal care, maternity leave and maternity pay or allowance.

Antenatal care can include parenting classes as well as medical appointments and the father or your partner has the right to time off work (which may be unpaid) to also attend two antenatal appointments. Furthermore, your employer cannot change the terms and conditions of your employment contract without agreement.

What is Statutory Maternity Pay?

Statutory Maternity Pay, or SMP, is paid for 39 weeks and applies if you’ve been working continuously for 26 weeks for the same employer or you earn at least £120 per week on average for eight weeks both before your qualifying week. Your qualifying week is 15 weeks before the week you’re due to have your baby and a maternity calculator is here –

SMP consists of 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then the same for the following 33 weeks or £151.20 per week (whichever is lower). If you take the full year of maternity leave, then the last 13 weeks are unpaid unless your employer offers enhanced maternity pay.

What is paternity leave and Shared Parental Leave?

If your partner is having a baby or you’re adopting, you might be eligible for one or two weeks of paid paternity leave or paternity pay. Paternity leave or pay has similar qualifying criteria to maternity pay and you may still be eligible even if you were on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, so ask your employer.

You and your partner may also be able to get Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay, splitting up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between you.

You can use this to take leave either in one go or in blocks separated by periods of work and together with your partner or separately. There are slightly different criteria whether you are having a baby or adopting, so check your eligibility beforehand.

What if I’m adopting?

Statutory Adoption Leave is the same as maternity leave, but you must have been matched with a child through an adoption agency. Your employer may ask for proof of the adoption or a placement if you’re fostering to adopt.

What about my rights while I’m off on maternity leave?

During your maternity leave, your employer has the right to a reasonable level of contact with you. While on leave, they should tell you of any promotion opportunities, any planned redundancies or reorganisations and if any jobs are being advertised.

You can also agree with them how and how often you’d like to be in touch plus what are known as keeping in touch (KIT) days. You can work up to 10 KIT days during your maternity leave and will need to agree with your employer what form these take, what you’ll be paid and the type of work you’ll be doing.

What about when I decide to return to work?

You must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice before you’re due to return to work if you want to either stay on maternity leave longer or return to work sooner than planned.

By law, the first 26 weeks of maternity leave are called ‘ordinary maternity leave’ after which you have the right to return to the same job.

If you’ve taken more than that (known as ‘additional maternity leave’) you still have the same rights, but if there have been significant changes to the organisation and it’s no longer possible to return to the same position, you could be offered a similar job. This alternative can’t be on worse terms and must have the same pay, benefits, seniority, location and holiday entitlement.

What if I want to change my hours or job when I return to work?

If you decide that you want to change your duties or hours when you return to work, then you can make a flexible working request. Once your employer has reviewed your request, possibly after a meeting, they should reply within a maximum of three months and any approval needs to be in writing.

If your request isn’t approved, then you should ask your employer the reason for the decision and for an opportunity to discuss any possible compromises. You can appeal the decision officially, but it’s best to keep things informal before going any further.

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