The laws surrounding the rights of pregnant women and those on maternity leave have advanced significantly in the past few years. Where once a woman feared she would be sacked as soon as the boss found out she was expecting a baby, now strict laws protect her from such behaviour.
That’s not to say that some workplaces might not be fully up to speed with maternity rights, but as an employee you have plenty of legal support on your side. So don’t presume from day one that your situation at work is going to be a battle. Instead read up on what you are entitled to and aim to make your working relationship a positive and happy one throughout your pregnancy and maternity leave.
Rights whilst still at work
• You have the right to take paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments of any kind, including relaxation and parenting classes. You may need to show some form of proof that you are pregnant and from the second appointment onwards you may need to show a card or letter with details of appointments.
• You will be entitled to take maternity leave (see below).
• You will be entitled to maternity pay benefits (see below).
• You have the right to work safely. Your employer must ensure that if your job compromises the health and safety of you or your baby, for the duration of your pregnancy you must be given suitable alternative work or be suspended on full pay. In this instance it is important to tell your employer as early as possible about your pregnancy.
• You have extensive protection against unfair treatment or being sacked.
Illness during pregnancy
If you are ill with a pregnancy-related complaint and have to take time off work in the four weeks before your due date, your maternity leave payments (Statutory Maternity Pay from your employer or the state Maternity Allowance) will start automatically.
• Compulsory maternity leave. Even women who do not wish to take up Statutory Maternity Leave must take two weeks off after the birth. This is raised to four weeks for women working in a factory.
• Statutory Maternity Leave runs for a maximum of 52 weeks. For the first 39 weeks you might be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (see below) and the rest of this entitlement is unpaid. Throughout this whole period you remain an employee of your company.
• Statutory Maternity Leave is for employees and some women who work under other conditions. To see if you qualify for this, go to *www.direct.gov.uk and fill in the personalised guidance on maternity rights. At this website you can also get personalised guidance regarding your maternity rights at work. Statutory Maternity Leave is open to all employees regardless of how long they have worked for their company, how much they are paid or how many hours they work.
• In order to qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you must have been employed continuously by your employer for at least 26 weeks leading into the 15th week of your pregnancy.
• You need to tell your employer that you are requesting this pay at least 28 days before you want it to start. Check with your employer if they would like this notification in writing.
• You must be earning an average of at least £95 per week before tax to qualify for SMP.
• If you decide to leave your job or you are made redundant while you are receiving SMP you will continue getting these payments for their duration.
• If your employer offers in your contract to pay you above and beyond the SMP rate then you may be required to turn to work for a minimum period after the maternity leave (this is usually three or six months). If you decide not to return to work and you have such an agreement, your employer may request the amount you were given beyond SMP to be repaid.
• The earliest SMP can start is 11 weeks before the baby’s due date, but it usually starts once the maternity leave is being taken.
• For the first six weeks, your employer will pay you 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, then for the remaining 33 weeks you will receive up to £123.06 a week. You still pay tax and National Insurance on these wages.
• If you do not qualify for SMP, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance or the Sure Start Maternity Grant.
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