Pregnant women have the right to what is termed as ‘reasonable’ amounts of time off to attend antenatal appointments and to be paid for this time off. Your employer may ask for written confirmation that you are pregnant and proof of your appointments. You will be able to get an appointment card from your midwife or GP at your first antenatal appointment.
Antenatal care may include relaxation or parentcraft classes if your midwife, GP or health visitor advises that these appointments should be part of your antenatal care.
Health and Safety
All pregnant women are entitled to special health and safety protection at work to ensure that their working conditions do not put them, or their baby, at risk. These rights continue to apply if you have given birth within the last six months, or are breastfeeding. If you have any concerns about your working conditions you must tell your employer that you are pregnant and ask for a risk assessment. Your employer has a duty to carry out a risk assessment and, if necessary, must take the following steps:
- Do all that is reasonable to remove or reduce the risks found
- Temporarily change your working conditions or hours of work
- If a risk remains offer you suitable alternative work, or
- If there is no suitable alternative, suspend you on full pay for as long as is necessary to avoid the risk.
To find out more, you should contact your trade union, your personnel/human resources officer or your local Health and Safety Executive.
Dismissal or unfair treatment
It is against the law for your employer to dismiss you or select you for redundancy for any reason connected with pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. This applies from day one of your pregnancy. You are protected no matter how long you have worked for your employer. If you feel that you are being treated unfairly, you should seek advice from
your trade union or local Citizens Advice Bureau.
When to tell your boss
Many women are so excited by the news of their pregnancy that they tell their partner and close friends straight away. But when should you tell your boss?
You may decide to wait until you have passed the 12-week milestone and the pregnancy is established before making it public. Or you may be concerned that the news might affect your prospects, and decide to wait even longer until you have made your mind up about whether to return to work after the baby is born.
Unfortunately, the months when you want to keep the news to yourself can be the very same months when you are feeling sick and tired, and would welcome some help and support. Once you have announced your pregnancy you may be able to adjust your workload slightly, especially if your job involves standing, lifting, or carrying.
It is up to you when to tell your employer that you are pregnant. However, if:
- You work in a job that may put you or your baby at risk, or
- Your expected week of childbirth is in the next 15 weeks
you should tell your employer immediately. Under the new Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2002, women whose babies are due on or after 6 April 2003 have to give at least 15 weeks notice of the date on which they are due to give birth.
Many women choose to wait until they have had their first scan at around 12 to 14 weeks before announcing their pregnancy, but if you suffer from morning sickness or other pregnancy-related conditions such as extreme tiredness that will require you to take time off work, it is wise to let your employer know that you are pregnant so that your absence can be logged as pregnancy-related.
You can reduce tiredness and stress by:
- Eating well and eating healthily
- Trying to put your feet up for half an hour at lunchtime
- Changing your hours so that you travel out of the rush hour
- Juggling to do some work from home
- Trying a job swap if your current position involves standing or lifting
What are my rights now that I am a parent?
As a new parent you are entitled to special health and safety protection at work and protection against dismissal or unfair treatment. In addition, you also qualify for the following.
There are two types of maternity leave, ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave.
Ordinary maternity leave
Under the Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2002, all pregnant employees are entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave. You must inform your employer of your intention to take maternity leave at least 15 weeks before your expected week of childbirth. Your employer will write to you within 28 days of this notification, informing you of the date on which your maternity leave will end. At the end of the 26 weeks you are entitled to return to the same job as before you left. You do not have to give any notice of your return to work if you are returning at the end of the 26 weeks but if you want to return to work early you need to give at least 28 days notice of your intended return date.
Maternity leave can be taken any time from 11 weeks before the date your baby is due. Many women prefer to work for as long as possible so that they have more time at home once the baby is born. It is up to you to decide when you want to start your leave and you can work up to the birth if you choose. But, if you are away from work as a result of a pregnancy-related illness in the last four weeks of your pregnancy your employer is entitled to start your leave immediately.
Some companies offer more generous maternity conditions than the statutory minimum. You should talk to your human resources department or union representative who will be able to give you up-to-date information on the schemes in
operation in your organisation, as well as the rights and benefits that are available to you.
Additional maternity leave
All women are entitled to an additional 26 weeks’ maternity leave. During this period their contract of employment continues but with limited terms and conditions. This means a woman can be away from her job on maternity leave for around 52 weeks in total.”
On your return from additional maternity leave you are entitled to return to the same job unless your employer can show that it is not reasonably practicable for you to do so. In this case you must be offered a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions. Remember that if you decide to return to work before the additional maternity leave period is up, you must give your employer 8 weeks notice of your intention to do so.
Returning to work
If you qualify for additional maternity leave your employer has the right to write to you, no earlier than 21 days before the end of end of your ordinary maternity leave, to ask whether you intend to return to work. You must respond to this request within 21 days of receiving the letter. If you do not your employer may take disciplinary action against you.
If you are unsure as to whether you will be returning to work at this stage it is best to say that you will be returning. You can always change your mind later. If you decide that you don’t want to return to work, you should resign and give your employer the notice required in your contract.
On your return from additional maternity leave, you are entitled to return to the same job unless your employer can show that it is not reasonably practicable for you to return to your old job. In this case they must offer you a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions. Remember that if you decide to return to work before the additional maternity leave period is up, you must give your employer at least 21 days’ notice of your intention to do so.
Returning to work part time
Many women wish to return to work part time after having a baby. An employee with more than 26 weeks service is now entitled to request a change to flexible working practices within the first six years of his or her child’s life. It is important to remember that there is no absolute right to flexible working. An employer must, however, seriously consider any requests for flexible working and follow a set procedure in order to make a decision.
The rate is currently £117.18 per week or 90% of their earnings if their average earnings are lower than £117.18 per week. This rate is due to go up to £123.06 from April 5 2009. Also, the father can take either one week or two consecutive weeks, i.e. not one week here and one week further down the line.
Taking parental leave after maternity leave
You must have one years service with the same employer and can take up to 13 weeks per child per year up to when the child is 5 years old (or 18 years old if they are disabled).
If you take parental leave for four weeks or less you have the right to return to the same job as before. This does not apply, however, if you take more than four weeks, or if this leave is at the end of additional maternity leave. In these cases you have the right to go back to the same job, except where the employer can show that this would not be reasonably practicable. In that case, you are entitled to another job which is both suitable and appropriate for you.
You may be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if you are an employee or if you work for an agency and the agency deducts tax and National Insurance from your salary. To qualify for SMP you need to have worked continuously for your employer for 26 weeks by the end of your qualifying week (which is 15 weeks before your baby is due) and still be employed in your qualifying week (your human resources office will be able to calculate the exact date for you).
SMP is now paid for 39 weeks and check the average earnings to qualify, I think it’s now £90. The SMP rates as with paternity are currently £117.18 or 90% of average weekly earnings if lower. The first 6 weeks are still at 90% of average earnings calculated 15 weeks before the EWC. According to the HMRC, if an employee leaves they can have any SMP owed to them as a lump sum so long as they are aware that if they start work for another employer, they would owe money to their old employer on the commencement of their new employment, otherwise they will have been overpaid, and their previous employer will not be able to claim back monies from the tax office. Also, the employee can come to work as a Keep In Touch (KIT) day for up to ten days during any period of their maternity leave, and whether they come in for one hour or the whole day, this will be considered as use of one of their KIT days. They should normally be paid for these days they work without it affecting their SMP.
In terms of holidays, as from October 2008, an employee is entitled to all their holiday entitlement had they been at work, and should have their pension contributions made by their employer for the paid part i.e. 39 weeks as normal, based on their normal salary, not the SMP pay. Also any bank holidays that fall during the employees maternity leave should be owed to her in lieu if her contract specifically states she gets paid bank holidays.
Where to next
- the Maternity Alliance is an independent national charity which works
to improve rights and services for all pregnant women, new mothers and
their families. They also provide 24-hour recorded information on maternity
rights and benefits and parental leave. Tel: 020 7588 8582.
- produced by the Department for Trade and Industry, this site provides
tailored interactive guidance on employment (including maternity) rights