Becoming a parent can be the most exciting and the most daunting of experiences – at least those are the mix of emotions I felt when my pregnancy was confirmed.
Like many couples, my husband and I waited until after the 12 week neonatal scan before sharing our news with friends and family. It was also when I chose to tell my employer – excitement overriding any consideration of what the legalities around being pregnant at work actually necessitated.
Here’s what I learned after doing my homework:
Pregnant employees must formally advise their employer at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due, preferably in writing, confirming the expected week of childbirth and the date they intend to start maternity leave.
Once your employer has received formal notification they have 28 days to reply, confirming your maternity leave start and end dates. If you wish to change the agreed return to work date your employer is entitled to receive your request at least 8 weeks’ before your expected return date.
Although a growing “baby bump” might make the announcement for you, it makes sense to nip the rumour mill in the bud by ensuring that your line manager is the first person you advise of your pregnancy and doing so sooner, rather than later, allows for a planned handover of work and responsibilities as well as early adoption of your employer’s duty of care to conduct a risk assessment.
This duty of care also applies to women who are breastfeeding, with employers required to provide suitable facilities to rest or express milk.
Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care, including medical appointments and parenting classes.
Your employer may request evidence of the appointments you are attending and at my place of work around two hours was considered reasonable time to attend each one. Partners of a pregnant woman have the right to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments.
Assuming there are no complications with your pregnancy it is possible to work right up until your waters break or the day before an induced C-section. Employees are entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave which can start from the beginning of the 11th week before the baby is due.
Alternatively, if the baby comes early maternity leave begins on the day after the birth. Of course, you don’t have to take all of this time but the first two weeks are compulsory (4 weeks for factory workers).
Ordinary maternity leave is the first 26 weeks off work, after which time you have the right to return to the same job you had before maternity.
However, a lot can change in six months – in your personal life and in work so, during the subsequent 26 weeks (known as additional maternity leave) you have the right to return to the same job unless it is no longer available, in which case you must be offered alternative work with the same pay and conditions.
And a myth buster – it is possible to be made redundant during maternity leave. If your organisation is going through a redundancy consultation process you should be notified in the same way as all other affected employees and if your role becomes redundant you should be offered a suitable alternative vacancy or you may be eligible to redundancy pay.
If you intend to claim Statutory Maternity Pay you must present your employer with a doctor’s letter or MAT B1 form.
Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 39 weeks and is payable at 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks and £140.98 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. However, a quick check of your employment contract will confirm if you are entitled to extra benefits, for example some employers may continue to pay full pay throughout the maternity leave.
Fathers also need to officially notify their employers if they wish to take paternity leave at least 15 weeks before the week the baby is expected by confirming in writing the baby’s due date, when the leave will commence and whether it is for one or two weeks. Paternity leave must end within 56 days of the birth date.
There is very low take-up of shared parental leave in the UK (my husband and I didn’t use it either), however, where eligibility criteria are met, because a mother must take at least two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave after the birth she can create up to 50 weeks’ shared parental leave and up to 37 weeks’ statutory parental pay for her and / or her partner.
While on maternity leave employees continue to build up their holiday entitlements. Many employers allow employees to add all of their annual leave on to the beginning or end of the maternity period and I chose to do this, benefiting from 3 weeks at home before the birth of my baby.
Keeping in touch with your employer during maternity leave is optional but I chose to pop in to the office from time to time. Employees may use up to 10 “keep in touch” days to work during maternity leave without impacting their right to maternity pay.
The work and pay undertaken during these days should be agreed between the employer and the employee prior to going in to work. Keep in touch days are a great opportunity to attend training, staff meetings or return back to work gradually.
Returning to work full-time at the end of maternity leave isn’t for everyone. And it wasn’t for me. Eligible employees can request to work flexibly. This request triggers a 3 month decision period where the business case is considered.
Since returning to work in January I transitioned from full-time work to 3.5 days a week, the probationary trial for this transition successfully concluded at the end of March.
As well as being legally entitled to paid time off for antenatal care; maternity leave and maternity pay (or maternity allowance depending on eligibility) pregnant employees are entitled to protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal.
This includes being eligible for the same pay rises as other employees and being advised of promotion opportunities during maternity leave.
Gemma Stuart, QHSE recruitment specialist, Thorpe Molloy Recruitment