What are the maternity leave rights?
Female employees have a number of maternity rights, including:
- Paid time off to receive ante-natal care
- Up to 52 weeks maternity leave (made up of ordinary and additional maternity leave)
- Right to return to work after maternity leave
- Protection from dismissal by reason of pregnancy or childbirth
- Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) (subject to relevant qualifying conditions)
- Risk assessment to identify any risks to the new mother or un-born child
- Changes to working conditions, hours of work or suitable alternative work as result of a risk assessment, or suspension from work on full pay.
In addition, the father of a child or partner of an expectant mother has the right to take unpaid leave to attend upto two ante-natal appointments. The maximum time allowed for each appointment is six and a half hours. The right is to time off work and not an automatic right to attend the ante-natal appointment. The decision as to who can attend the appointment will always remain with the expectant mother.
What is the maternity leave procedure?
All pregnant employees, regardless of their length of service or hours of work, have a right to take a period of 52 weeks’ maternity leave.
Employees on maternity leave benefit from all the normal terms and conditions of employment, save for pay unless contractually entitled to full pay during maternity leave.
To claim maternity leave an employee should notify her employer no later than the end of the fifteenth week before the expected week of childbirth that she is pregnant, the expected week of childbirth and the date she intends to start her leave. She must also confirm this in writing if the employer requests it.
Maternity leave can start no earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth (although it may start before then if the baby arrives early). The expected date of birth is given on the MATB1 form that the employee will have been given by her healthcare provider.
Absence for pregnancy-related reasons will automatically trigger maternity leave if the absence occurs after the beginning of the 4th week before the expected week of childbirth.
Once notified of the maternity leave start date within 28 days an employer must confirm the employee’s expected return date in writing.
An employee wishing to return to work before the end of her maternity leave must give 8 week’s notice of the date of return. An employee wishing to return to work at the end of her maternity leave need not give notice unless requested to do so by the employer.
What are the ordinary maternity leave rights?
An employee who returns to work after Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks of maternity leave) is entitled to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions as if she had not been absent, unless a redundancy situation has arisen.
What are the additional maternity leave rights?
An employee who returns to work after Additional Maternity Leave (the next 26 weeks of maternity leave) enjoys similar rights unless there is a reason other than redundancy that means that it is not reasonably practicable for her employer to take her back to the same job. In those circumstances she is entitled to be offered suitable alternative work, but on the same level of pay.
How long can maternity leave be extended?
Maternity leave cannot be extended beyond the 52nd week. If an employee is ill at the end of maternity leave then normal sick leave arrangements will apply. It is possible to agree a further period of absence as paid or unpaid leave, but the employee will then be treated as having exercised her right to return and maternity leave rights will cease thereafter.
What is automatically unfair dismissal?
Any dismissal is automatically unfair, regardless of length of service or hours of work, if the dismissal is on maternity related grounds and takes place during pregnancy or statutory maternity leave. The protection applies automatically from the start of the employee’s pregnancy.
The same principle applies if dismissal occurs within four weeks following the end of the maternity leave period when the employee has been incapable of work due to a medically certified illness, or occurs after the end of statutory maternity leave period and is on grounds connected with that leave, or is on the grounds of a health and safety provision which could give rise to maternity suspension
A dismissal is also automatically unfair if it is on the grounds of redundancy and the employer has not offered any suitable alternative vacancy that is available, or the employee has been unfairly selected for redundancy for one of the above reasons.
There is an automatic right to receive written reasons for dismissal while pregnant, or during the statutory maternity leave period, and any such dismissal may also amount to sex discrimination.