Employers are often confused as to what rights employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave enjoy. It may be helpful to list some of the key rights. These are:-
- Paid time off to attend antenatal appointments, regardless of hours worked or length of service;
- Health and safety rights whilst pregnant or breastfeeding, which includes carrying out risk assessments;
- Maternity leave period of up to 52 weeks, which is made up of 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave, regardless of length of service;
- A minimum of two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave starting on the day on which childbirth occurs. In the case of factory workers, this is extended to four weeks. If an employer allows an employee to work during this period they will be guilty of a criminal offence;
- The benefit of all terms and conditions of employment which would have applied had she not been absent, with the exception of remuneration, which is varied;
- Statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks’ (subject to qualification), which is made up of 6 weeks’ at 90% average earnings and 33 weeks’ at the prescribed rate of £136.78;
- To return to the same job on return from maternity leave;
- Priority for suitable alternative employment in redundancy cases;
- To request flexible working on return from maternity leave;
Protection from detriment, dismissal or discrimination by reason of pregnancy or maternity.
It is open to employers to agree more favourable contractual terms with employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave. However, it is not possible for an employee to agree less favourable terms that the statutory entitlements. If any aspect of an employee’s contract is less favourable than the equivalent statutory right, the employee can take advantage of the statutory right.
The Government have announced its intention to introduce a new system of paternity rights from 2015. This will allow parents to share statutory maternity leave and pay that is currently available only to mothers and in the case of adoptive parents, to the primary adopter. The key proposals are:
- The current entitlement of 52 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ pay will remain the default position for all employed women (including the two week compulsory maternity leave).
- The proposed system will allow qualifying parents to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay between them (i.e. everything except the compulsory maternity leave).
- It will be for employees to propose a pattern of leave and discuss this with their employers.
- Both parents will be able to take leave at the same time. Leave may also be taken in small blocks (no less than one week) rather than in one go.
- Employers will not be obliged to agree to the proposed shared parental leave pattern. Where an agreement cannot be reached, the default position will be for a parent to take their leave in one continuous block.
Also worth noting:
On 1 October 2013, the national minimum wage for workers aged 21 or over will increase from £6.19 to £6.31.
Please let us know if you require any advice on any aspect of employment law.