Pregnancy and Maternity Leave
The law outlines the minimum statutory entitlements that employers must offer their pregnant employees or those taking maternity leave. Employers are able to offer more favourable terms, but they cannot legally offer less favourable terms. It is crucial that employers are aware of, and do not breach, their employees' family and parental rights, or they risk leaving themselves exposed to claims in the Employment Tribunal, including claims for discrimination.
The key rights for these employees are:
- Time off for antenatal appointments
- Health and safety protection while pregnant and breastfeeding
- Up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave regardless of length of service
- Statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks
- The right to return to the same job
- The right to request flexible working conditions on return to work
- Priority for alternative employment in the case of redundancy
- Protection from dismissal, detriment or discrimination due to their pregnancy or maternity
The protected period for a woman begins when she becomes pregnant and ends at the end of the additional maternity leave period (AML) if she has the right to ordinary maternity leave (OML) and AML or when she returns to work after the pregnancy. However, if she does not exercise this right, the protected period ends at the end of the period of two weeks beginning with the end of the pregnancy.
As of 6 April 2003, eligible employees have been able to take either one whole week or two consecutive weeks’ ordinary paternity leave (OPL) within 56 days of the child’s birth so that the employee can help to care for the child and support the mother. However, with the introduction of shared parental leave, there are some circumstances in which an employee will not be entitled to take OPL.
Shared Parental Leave
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is a statutory entitlement available to eligible employees who are new parents (including adoptive parents), enabling up to 50 weeks of the statutory maternity leave or statutory adoption leave entitlement to be taken more flexibly within the first year after birth or placement for adoption, by either parent or shared between both parents.
Leave can be taken in one block or several discontinuous blocks with periods of work in between (which, depending on the circumstances, may require the employer's agreement). Eligible employees may also be entitled to statutory shared parental pay.
An Employee is entitled to unpaid parental leave in addition to any maternity/paternity rights they have.
They are entitled to take parental leave, if;
- they have been continuously employed by their current employer for at least one year;
- they have parental responsibility for a child;
- will be taking the leave to spend time with or otherwise care for the child.
Employees are entitled to a total of 18 weeks' unpaid leave in respect of each child who meets the above criteria.
Therefore, if the Employee has twins, they are entitled to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave in respect of each individual child i.e. 36 weeks.
Leave taken while working for another employer counts towards the employee's 18-week entitlement.
Leave can be taken at any time up to the employee's child’s 18th birthday, and must usually be taken in blocks of at least one week. Special rules apply to parents of disabled children, for example, leave can be taken in blocks of one day.
Eligible employees (often parents and carers, but not limited to them) may be entitled to make a statutory flexible working request to change the hours, days or place that they work.
At Allan Janes, our specialist employment solicitors can guide you through these procedures, advising you on your obligations as an employer and helping you come to a solution which best supports your business. Family rights can be complex, and you will often find that seeking specific advice at an early stage will prevent problems arising in the future.