Maternity leave

If you are working as an employee and become pregnant, the law gives you certain statutory maternity rights. You have statutory maternity rights to take paid time away from work in order to have your baby, and this is known as statutory maternity leave. 

If you are in dispute with your employer over how much maternity leave you are entitled to, or you have been dismissed after informing your employer of your pregnancy, call us and we will be able to help you.

What are my maternity rights?

In the case of pregnancy, your employer has to comply with the law and ensure that:

  • You are remunerated throughout your leave
  • You continue to benefit from any other rights you had under your existing employment contract
  • Your job is still available when you return (should you choose to return to work after having your baby)

However, in order to make sure that you are able to benefit from statutory maternity leave, you must give notice to your employer no less than 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

Your employer is obliged to carry out a risk assessment to determine if any changes to your work are necessary to protect your health or that of your unborn baby. Potential risks include:

  • Lifting/carrying heavy loads
  • Standing/sitting for long periods
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Working long hours

Your employer must remove the risk or remove you from being exposed to it. If neither of these is possible, your employer should suspend you on full pay.

How much money am I entitled to?

As of time of writing (2014), the ‘ordinary maternity leave’ is a period of up to 26 weeks. However, if you have been in continuous employment with your employer for the past six months you are entitled to ‘additional maternity leave’ which is another 26 weeks.

You are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for the first 18 weeks of your maternity leave. The SMP entitlement is 90% of your existing salary (at the time you became pregnant) for the first six weeks of your leave, and £100 per week for the next 12 weeks.

Regardless of the length of time you have been employed you are entitled to reasonable time off for antenatal care, to be paid at your normal rate of pay – it is unlawful for your employer to refuse this.

However, your employer is entitled to ask for evidence of antenatal appointments from the second appointment onwards (a medical certificate or appointment card will be sufficient). All pregnancy-related classes, including relaxation classes for example, are covered by this law provided they have been recommended by your doctor. 

You will not be entitled to any paid leave for antenatal care until you have made your employer aware of your pregnancy. Fathers-to-be are not entitled to time off to attend such appointments although most employers are flexible towards this.

Maternity leave and discrimination

The law makes it very clear that employers cannot discriminate against women who are pregnant. If the principal reason for an employee dismissing an employee is that they are pregnant, this will be a case of automatic unfair dismissal and the employer will have to pay compensation to the employee.

Examples of discrimination include:

  • Cutting hours without agreement
  • Providing unsuitable work
  • Redundancy due to pregnancy (however you may still lawfully be made redundant whilst pregnant for other reasons)
  • Raising disciplinary issues due to days off related to your pregnancy

Should your employer attempt to change the terms and conditions of your employment while you are pregnant without your agreement, they will be in breach of contract.

For alternative information on paternity rights, please see our information page on working father’s rights.

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