Having a baby gives couples plenty to think about, not least what happens with their employment situation. Here is the first in our series of top tips on parental leave and pay.
How long is maternity leave?
A pregnant employee has the right to 52 weeks’ maternity leave.
39 of these weeks could be paid (although this could be longer if your employment contract allows for contractual maternity pay).
When should I tell my employer that I’m pregnant?
To qualify for maternity leave, you must tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the baby is due:
that you are pregnant,
the expected week of childbirth, by means of a medical certificate if requested and
the date you intend to start maternity leave.
This being said, it is usually advisable to tell your employer as soon as possible of the pregnancy as there are various benefits (below) of doing so.
Once you have given notification to your employer, they must write to you within 28 days of receiving your notification, setting out your return date. You must give 8 weeks’ notice to change the return date.
When can maternity leave begin?
Maternity leave can start on any date, but ordinarily no earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the baby is due.
Maternity Leave will automatically start four weeks before the baby is due if you’re off work for pregnancy-related illness. If the baby arrives early, the leave will start on the day after the birth.
What’s the difference between Ordinary and Additional Maternity Leave?
The first 26 weeks of maternity leave are known as Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML). The following 26 weeks are known as Additional Maternity Leave (AML).
At the end of OML, you have the right to return to your old job.
At the end of AML, your rights are slightly different. While you have the right to return to your old job, if it is not practical for the employer to offer your old job back, it must offer you appropriate similar employment. This should be on no less favourable terms and should not affect your seniority or pension conditions.
Rights while pregnant
One reason to tell your employer sooner rather than later is that there are various rights for pregnant employees before they commence maternity leave.
Firstly, you are entitled to reasonable time off with pay for antenatal care. Your partner is entitled to take time off work to go to two antenatal appointments.
Secondly, employers must take into account any health and safety risks to new and expectant mothers. Risks could include heavy lifting, working long hours, or exposure to certain substances. If a risk cannot be avoided or removed the employer must offer different suitable employment. If no suitable alternative work is available, the employer must suspend you on full pay for as long as necessary to protect the health and safety of you and your baby.
Statutory maternity pay
Statutory maternity pay (SMP) will be payable if:
You have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and;
You have an average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.
It is payable for up to 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90% of the average weekly earnings. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the statutory maternity pay rate (£139.58, increasing to £140.98 from 2 April 2017) or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is the lower).
Alternatively, contractual maternity pay may be available at a higher rate than SMP, dependent upon your terms and conditions of employment. This could be available for longer than 39 weeks, again, depending on the employment contract.
If you do not qualify for SMP, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks.
If you would like clarification on your parental rights, contact a specialist employment solicitor for advice.