Parents are entitled to statutory paternity and maternity rights both before their child’s birth and after it. These rights give parents time to handle their family responsibilities as well as retaining their right to come back to work. Same-sex partners as well as fathers have an entitlement to maternity or paternity leave and these rights must be adhered to by employers.
Maternity Leave Entitlements
There are several elements to Maternity Leave:
- Compulsory Leave – this is a period of 2 weeks (or 4 for women working in factory environments) that immediately follow the birth during which time the woman cannot work by law.
- SML (statutory maternity leave) – this is a period of 52 weeks leave which the woman can take if she wishes. This 52 week has no qualifying period however SML or statutory maternity pay does have a qualifying period.
- SPL (Shared Parental Leave) – this is a term that is used for shared paternity and maternity leave and it is available to both parents.
The start of the 11th week before the baby is due to be born is earliest date on which a woman is permitted to begin maternity leave. An employer should always assume that their employee intends to take her entire 52 weeks statutory maternity leave entitlement unless they have been notified otherwise.
In the UK, qualifying mothers have an entitlement to receive SMP (statutory maternity pay) for up to 39 weeks. In order to qualify, the employee must:
- Be working for an employer that is liable to pay their employer’s share of their NI contributions.
- Have an average weekly earning over the previous 8 weeks that is above or at the NI contributions lower earning limit.
- Have been working continuously for a 26 week period for the same employer (this will be assessed at 15 weeks before the due date).
The 1st 6 weeks of statutory maternity pay is paid at 90 percent of the amount that the worker received on average per week. The rest of the SMP period is at paid at a lower statutory level.
Maternity Rights And Benefits
All terms of contract including benefits and holidays continue throughout the period of SML and women who also meet qualifying conditions have an entitlement to paid time off for attending ante-natal appointments. They are also legally entitled to return to their previous job with identical terms, conditions and benefits when returning to work after the 1st 26 weeks of statutory maternity leave. If they return to work following SML after 26 weeks they are still legally entitled to go back to doing their old job, or if it would no longer be practical, to another job that has equal conditions.
If a woman feels that she may be at risk during her employment while pregnant, she can legally request that a risk assessment be carried out and can request to be given alternative work to avoid potential risks. If compliance with health and safety cannot be achieved, working conditions cannot be reasonably altered sufficiently, or alternative work cannot be offered, the woman is entitled to be paid at her full rate while suspended from work. She must also not be subject to any disadvantage, dismissal, detriment or unfair treatment due to pregnancy or maternity leave. Pregnant women are also allowed to take 10 KIT (Keeping In Touch) days without losing their maternity pay entitlement as part of their maternity leave.
Paternity Leave Entitlement
To be entitled to paternity leave, the worker must:
- Have worked continuously in their employment for a period of 26 weeks, ending at the 15th week before the due date
- Be the biological father of the baby or the husband/partner of the baby’s mother
- Have responsibility for raising the child
Basic Paternity Leave is 2 weeks and can only be taken:
- Between the baby’s birth date or any of the days on the week following the baby’s birth
- Within 56 days of the birth date
Paternity Pay And Rights
SPP (Statutory Paternity Pay) is paid at the same rate as SMP. The rights which apply to paternity leave include:
- An entitlement to go back to working at the same job as before SPL
- To return with identical employment terms and conditions
- Not to be dismissed, treated unfairly or disadvantaged due to taking paternity leave
Qualifying fathers may also take unpaid parental leave up to a maximum of 18 weeks for every child up to the date of their eighteenth birthday.