What is maternity leave?
Any pregnant woman, irrespective of their employment status, reserve the right to maternity leave of a maximum of 52 weeks. The leave is divided into two broad categories, where the initial 26 weeks are considered as ordinary maternity leave and the remaining 26 weeks are classed as additional maternity leave.
There is no minimum amount of service required to claim maternity benefits but it is important to remember that you must inform your employer of your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before your due date.
Pregnant employees have the right to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. The first 26 weeks is known as ordinary maternity leave, and the second 26 weeks as additional maternity leave. Furthermore, the employee must inform the employer of their expected week of delivery, along with the date they intend to begin their maternity leave.
If under any circumstances they need to change their maternity leave, a 28 days’ notice must be given, or the new date of leave should be mutually decided by the employer. The employer must give a written intimation of return date of the employee, assuming the employee will be taking a 52 weeks’ leave.
If the employee is unable to be at work in the four weeks before the due date, due to pregnancy related illness, the maternity leave automatically begins on that day.
In case of Premature or sick babies
If the baby is born early, the maternity leave will begin on the day after the birth of the baby. If the baby is stillborn anytime after the 24th week of pregnancy or the baby passes away post-delivery, the employee is allowed to claim full maternity rights.
It is the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate workplace support to a parent of premature or sick babies, to ensure there is no added worry about their job.
A pregnant employee is entitled to either:
1. Statutory maternity pay
A statutory maternity pay is generally payable if the worker has been working with the company for a minimum 26 weeks before the beginning of maternity. The pay is payable for 39 weeks and for the first six weeks the pay is paid at 90% of the average weekly earnings. The remaining 33 weeks are paid at the current rate of SMP or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is the lower amount. The current rate of SMP is £145.18 per week.
2. Contractual maternity pay
Some employers choose to offer a contractual maternity pay which is slightly more than the statutory rate. The amount and duration of such a pay depends on the contract of employment, but it cannot in any circumstances be less than the rate of SMP.
3. Maternity Allowance
A maternity allowance is offered in a case where the pregnant woman does not qualify for SMP or contractual pay. This allowance is paid for 39 weeks. To qualify for this allowance, the woman must be employed for 26 weeks out of the total 66 weeks before the due date of childbirth.
Attending antenatal appointments
All pregnant women are allowed to receive a reasonable time off to attend antenatal appointments. This time off includes relaxation classes, parenting classes and time for antenatal routine check-ups. The employee may need to show the appointment card to prove that the appointment has been made.
Besides the mother-to-be, the partner or expectant father also has the right to take time off work to go to appointments.
Employment rights during maternity leave
During the course of leave, the employee is entitled to benefit from the usual terms of employment, except salaries, although they are provided maternity allowance.
It is the responsibility of the employer to keep the employee up to date with any important happenings at the workplace. These include:
- promotion opportunities
- any changes at work
- upcoming social events.
Returning to work after maternity leave
The employee usually has the right to return to their original job at the end of their maternity leave.
Unfair treatment due to pregnancy or taking maternity leave
An employee reserves the right to not be treated in any unfavourable way due to their pregnancy or maternity leave.
If the employee feels that they are being discriminated or treated unfavourably, they must raise the issue with their employer informally. Some of these issues can be easily resolved through a talk with your manager or concerned person.
If, however the approach does not seem to work, an employee can raise a formal complaint in the form of grievance letter. This needs to done in writing and should make the employer aware of how you feel. This gives the employer an opportunity to rectify the situation.
If the matter does not resolve by a grievance letter, as a last option the employer should choose to file a legal complaint in the office of employment tribunal. However, it is important to remember that the complaint must be filed within the three months of the occurrence of discrimination.