Maternity and Employment Rights

Right to maternity leave, parental leave and maternity pay for employees.

Maternity and Employment Rights

The law provides a right to maternity leave, parental leave and to maternity pay for employees. However some employers agree employment contracts which provide more generous maternity pay and leave than the statutory minimum for their female employees.

Maternity leave 

All female employees are entitled to a minimum of 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave, regardless of how long they have worked for an employer. Women with 26 weeks or more continuous employment are also entitled to an extra period of additional maternity leave. This starts at the end of the ordinary maternity leave period and lasts for a further 26 weeks.

Parental leave applies to both men and women and provides that:

• any employee with more than one year’s continuous employment and who has or expects to have responsibility for a child, has the right to take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid leave while the child is under 5;
• ‘children’ includes those who are adopted;
• parents may take all the leave as a full block of 13 weeks if they wish.

Maternity pay

To qualify for statutory maternity pay, an employee must satisfy the following conditions:

• They must have worked continuously for 26 weeks or more. The 26 weeks is counted to end with the week immediately preceding the 14th week before the expected week of childbirth. However, if the employee goes into labour early and at that stage they had worked not less than 8 weeks, they may still qualify for SMP if they went into labour more than 14 weeks before the date the baby was due.
• They can no longer work due to the pregnancy.
• The employee’s weekly earnings are not below the current rate at which national insurance contributions must be paid. The employee must have been earning the lower earnings limit for national insurance at least 8 weeks before the week preceding the 14 weeks counted to when their baby is due to be born.
• It is 11 weeks before the expected week of the birth or the employee gives birth before the start of the 11 week period.

Statutory maternity pay is paid for 26 weeks from when the employee goes on ordinary maternity leave, but this must not be earlier than the 11th week before the baby is due, and must not be later than one week before the baby is due.

The employee must give her employer 28 days’ notice of when she intends to go on leave.

They will be entitled to be paid 2 different rates of statutory maternity pay during ordinary maternity leave:

• For the first 6 weeks of leave, the employee is entitled to 9/10ths (90%) of her normal weekly pay. The normal weekly pay is worked out from what the employee received before maternity leave.
• After the first 6 weeks, the employee is entitled to a minimum of £102.80 per week for the rest of the ordinary maternity leave (20 weeks), or her normal weekly wage if this is less.

The employee is also entitled to any of the perks that she normally receives when at work. If an employee has private health care, they should check to see if pregnancy is covered by it.

Flexible working

Flexible working regulations apply to parents, adopters, guardians or foster parents of children aged under six. To qualify, an employee must have worked for the employer for a continuous period of 26 weeks at the date of making their application for flexible working.

An employee may apply in writing to an employer to change the terms and conditions of their employment relating to the hours worked, the times and place of work or some other term in their contract. The application has to be made for the purpose of caring for a child under the age of six (or 18 in the case of a disabled child).

An employer can only refuse an application under certain circumstances such as the burden of additional costs to the employer, detrimental impact on performance or effect on ability to meet customer demand etc.

Flexible working can include a request to work from home, staggered working hours, term time working and the like.

Statutory sick pay

All employees are entitled to be paid statutory sick pay when absent from work. There are exceptions which include employees over 65, the low paid who do not pay national insurance contributions, those who go sick within 57 days of having received benefits.

Statutory sick pay is payable for the first 28 weeks of absence in any period of entitlement. The period of entitlement is either when the contract of employment comes to an end, when the period of incapacity ends, or when the employee reaches their maximum entitlement to SSP. Otherwise, the period of entitlement ends after 3 years.

The payment is made by the employer on behalf of the Government. The employer is entitled to claim a contribution towards the payment, which is deducted from the payment of national insurance contributions. In order to be eligible, an employee must be employed, under the age of 65 and have earnings of at least the lower earning limit.

After 28 weeks, incapacity benefit will usually be payable by the DSS.

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