Getting help and advice about your pregnancy rights
You have the right under UK law: *
To 52 weeks’ maternity leave
To statutory maternity pay
To paid time off work to attend ante-natal sessions
To return to the same or similar job after maternity or parental leave
To shared parental leave and pay (the mother and their partner can share the statutory leave and pay)
To time off to care for dependants in exceptional circumstances
To two weeks’ paternity/partner leave and statutory paternity pay
To request a change to your contract terms to work flexibly - as long as you have worked for the employer for 26 weeks on the date the application is made.
Your maternity rights are protected from when your employer knows you are pregnant to when your maternity leave ends, and an employer cannot discipline you for matters related to your pregnancy.
When you return from maternity leave your employer must offer you the same role, or an equivalent one if they are making redundancies. If your post becomes redundant while you are on maternity leave you must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, which you do not have to interview for, and your employer must consult with you about this.
Pregnant women have the right to as much paid time off work as they need for antenatal care without loss of pay. Fathers and/or partners are entitled to accompany their partner (or surrogate mother) to two antenatal appointments and, in the case of adoption, the father and/or partner is entitled to time off to attend two adoption appointments, once you have been matched with a child.
There are two categories of maternity leave:
• Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) – a statutory entitlement of 26 weeks for all female employees, regardless of service or hours worked (there is also a two-week period of compulsory maternity leave immediately following childbirth, which forms part of the OML period)
• Additional Maternity Leave (AML) – starts at the end of OML and lasts for 26 weeks. This entitlement also applies regardless of length of service or hours worked.
Your employer can choose to provide enhanced terms on top of the statutory entitlements.
It is for you to decide when you want to stop work. The earliest you can start maternity leave is eleven weeks before your due date, and you can work right up until the day of childbirth.
To get access to maternity leave you must tell your employer that you are pregnant, your expected due date, and the date you intend to start your Ordinary Maternity Leave. You must tell your employer this at least 15 weeks before your due date. It is a good idea to put this in writing as well, in case you need to refer to this later.
Your midwife will give you a MATB1 form which confirms your expected due date, and you should give this to your employer. If you are claiming Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you can apply for both it and your maternity leave in the same letter (see paras 3.6–7).
At this stage you do not have to notify your employer whether or not you intend to take Additional Maternity Leave, and your employer should presume that you will take it.
During maternity leave all contractual rights (including holiday entitlement and pension rights) will continue as if you were at work and the only change will be to your pay. Your maternity pay will depend on the length of service at that employer and whether or not you benefit from enhanced terms.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid by your employer for up to 39 weeks - even if you do not plan to return to work. You do not have to repay any SMP you have received if you decide not to return. You are entitled to SMP if you have worked at least 26 weeks’ service by the end of the qualifying week (the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth) and are employed in all or part of the qualifying week. In practice this means that you usually qualify if you started your present job before you became pregnant.
For the first six weeks SMP is 90% of your average pay and this is usually calculated from the pay you received in the last eight weeks.
After that there is a flat rate which applies for 33 weeks - currently £156.66 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). To claim SMP and maternity leave you should write to your employer by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due, or at least 28 days before you want to receive SMP (if that is earlier) and tell them that you are pregnant, your expected due date, that you want to claim SMP, the date you intend to start Ordinary Maternity Leave and a copy of form MAT B1.
Maternity Allowance (MA) is a weekly payment for women who are pregnant or have just given birth and who cannot claim Statutory Maternity Pay. It is paid for up to 39 weeks and there are no deductions for tax or National Insurance. The allowance is not paid during any part of the 39 weeks that you work. MA is a flat rate weekly payment of £156.66 or 90% of your average weekly earnings if that is less.
Whilst you do not have to inform your employer that you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is important (for you and your child’s health and safety) that you provide them with written notification as early as you are comfortable doing so. Until your employer has received written confirmation from you, they are not obliged to take any specific action or complete risk assessments regarding your pregnancy.
As employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of breastfeeding mothers you should have suitable facilities and breaks to breastfeed or express milk. Alternatively, you should be able to temporarily change your hours or transfer to alternative work if your working conditions stop you from breastfeeding/expressing milk, or your baby’s health is put at risk by a particular condition of your job. It is good practice for your employer to provide a safe and healthy environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk. The facilities could be included in the suitable rest facilities that the employer must provide for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
In addition to the statutory rights to maternity and family leave and pay there are specific legal protections relating to pregnancy and maternity. It is illegal for your employer to treat you less favourably because of your pregnancy, or because you are exercising your right to take maternity leave. For example: it would be unlawful not to offer you a job because you are pregnant, or to deny you the usual rights at work to benefits, training or promotion opportunities. It is also unlawful under the Employment Rights Act for an employer to subject you to any detriment for a reason related to your pregnancy, childbirth or maternity, or for taking, or seeking to take, maternity, adoption, paternity/partner or shared parental or parental leave.
If you want to change your working hours when you return after pregnancy, then then you should make this request as early as possible. You have the right to request flexible working arrangements - whether this is a change to their hours, times of work or location, in order to work from home. If you have been employed for 26 weeks, you have the right to request flexible working and your employer has a legal duty to seriously consider your request. Flexible working patterns may include part-time work, reduced hours, flexitime, job sharing, term-time or homeworking and it may be considered indirect sex discrimination if your employer refuses your request.
Under the legislation, you can ask for your contracts to be varied to change hours of work, times or patterns of work or location of work (for example to work from home). Requests can be made for any reason and the employer must give them due consideration.
Your employers’ policy should follow the ACAS code - which says that they should discuss that request with you (allowing you to take a union representative with you) and give you a written response within 12 weeks and the right to appeal. If the request is refused unreasonably or the working pattern you are being asked to work makes it difficult to arrange childcare then there may be a discrimination claim.
Once a request to change hours or location is agreed it will be a permanent change.
You are also entitled to reasonable time off to deal with an emergency which includes your child being sick. Your employer does not have to pay you for the time off, but you should not be disciplined as long as you have followed your companies policies for notifying your employer.
Your union representative is your starting point for getting help from us with any problem at work.
Sometimes members feel that they can sort things out on their own, but it is important to talk to your union representative as soon as possible. Sometimes trying to sort out an issue without proper advice can make the problem much worse. We are here to help you and you can contact your union representative by calling 0333 2423 526.
Your union representative will discuss the situation with you, agree a way forward with you and together they will help you achieve the best possible outcome for you.
You have a legal right to belong to a trade union and your employer is forbidden from treating you unfavourably because you join a trade union, take part in trade union activities or use the services trade unions provide for their members. You also have a right to be accompanied by a trade union representative at any grievance meetings, disciplinary hearings and disciplinary appeals.
* From Employment Rights Act (1996) and Equalities Act (2010)