If you are reading this article, it is likely you are expecting a baby. So congratulations. Starting a family is both an exciting and nervous time, and they last thing you and your partner need to add to your apprehension is worries about your employment. Therefore, the more you understand about your maternity rights, the better.
Below are the answers to the most common questions we are asked by clients about maternity leave. They do not constitute legal advice, so if you need more in-depth information, please do not hesitate to call our office, and talk to one of our team.
Can I be fired for being pregnant?
Unfortunately, even in 2018, it is not unusual for a woman’s job to be threatened or for her to find she is being overlooked for a promotion or cut out of meetings once she announces she is going to have a baby.
Under the Equality Act 2010, pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics, meaning a woman is protected against any form of discrimination, not only during her pregnancy, but whilst she is on maternity leave.
What if I have to take time off work due to illness when pregnant?
“You’re not sick, you’re pregnant”. Any woman who has suffered through the relentless tiredness and nausea which can accompany early pregnancy knows that despite feeling like absolute hell (let’s speak plainly here), you are still expected to carry on as normal. This is not always easy, and sometimes, it is just not possible.
Under the Equality Act 2010 an employee is not permitted to consider any absences for pregnancy-related illness when making decisions about a woman’s employment. This is critical, as although most pregnancies continue trouble-free, complications can strike at any time, requiring an extended stay in hospital or even complete bed-rest. It is important to know that you cannot be treated differently, be overlooked for advancement, or dismissed from your position because of a pregnancy-related condition.
How much time off work am I entitled to when I have my baby?
There are three types of maternity leave:
- ordinary maternity leave
- additional maternity leave
- compulsory maternity leave
Ordinary maternity leave covers the first 26 weeks and additional maternity leave covers the following 26 weeks. Ordinary maternity leave can be started anytime from 11 weeks before your baby is born. You do not have to take the full 52 weeks off, but for health and safety reasons, it is compulsory to take 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born (or 4 weeks if you work in a factory).
Can I share my maternity leave?
You have the legal right to share 50 out of 52 weeks maternity leave with the father of your child or your spouse, civil partner, or partner.
What notice periods do I need to give my employer if I plan to go on maternity leave?
To be entitled to maternity leave, you need to give your employer notice on or before the 15th week before your due date. The notice must state:
- you are pregnant,
- your due date, and
- the week you plan to start your ordinary maternity leave
The employer needs to write back to you within 28 days, acknowledging your maternity leave and setting down the date you are expected to return from your additional maternity leave. If you wish to change your return to work date, you need to provide at least eight weeks’ notice.
What if my baby is born prematurely
If you have a premature birth you do not have to inform your employer of your intended leave date (you are likely to be rather busy), but you need to tell your boss as soon as possible after your baby has been born that you have started your maternity leave.
How do I know if I qualify for maternity leave?
To qualify for maternity leave, you need to be an employee rather than a worker. In the age of contract work and freelance, the distinction between an employee and a worker is not always clear-cut. An employee is defined as a person who:
- is under a contract for service, and
- in an office with ‘earnings’, which includes any remuneration or profit derived from employment.
It is also a legal requirement to provide your employer with the correct notice (as set out above).
What are my rights to maternity pay?
You are entitled to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay, which is made up of:
- 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
- £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks
Tax and National Insurance will be deducted from your statutory maternity pay.
Payment normally begins from the beginning of maternity leave or automatically if you have to leave work in the four weeks before your baby is due because of a pregnancy-related illness.
To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, you must:
- earn an average of £116 per week or more
- give the correct notice (28 days)
- provide proof you are pregnant (a letter from your doctor or midwife will suffice)
- you have worked for your employer continuously for at least six months
If you do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay because you are self-employed or do not earn enough, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance.
What should I do if there is a dispute regarding my maternity leave or pay?
Disputes around maternity leave or pay can cause stress at a time when you are already having to make a huge adjustment in your life (not to mention having to deal with the exhaustion that comes with having a newborn). If a dispute regarding your maternity leave or pay develops, or you feel you are being discriminated against because you are pregnant or on maternity leave, talk to a Solicitor straight away. They can quickly advise you on what action to take and help you make a claim in the Employment Tribunal if your case merits it.
Having a baby should be a joyous time – don’t let work problems fester and cause you unnecessary stress and time away from enjoying your child.
Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice.
At Hart Reade, we can provide you with a wealth of information, advice, and support regarding maternity leave and pay. To talk to any of the family law team, please call us on 01323 727 321.