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Maternity employment law advice
As an employer, it’s important that you stay on top of the latest developments in maternity leave rules, as well as any new legislation affecting paternity rights and shared parental leave.
In the UK, female employees are guaranteed certain maternity rights by law if they become pregnant. But expectant fathers are gaining more and more in the way of paternity entitlements too.
How our employment solicitors can help your business with parental leave
To help you support your employees who are expecting children, our expert maternity and paternity law solicitors can advise you on the following:
- Statutory maternity + paternity leave entitlements
- Maternity pay rules + agreements
- Pregnant employees taking time off for scans + antenatal appointments
- Risk assessments for pregnant employees
- Contact with employees during parental leave
- Avoiding unfair treatment during pregnancy and gender discrimination claims
- Shared parental leave
Get in touch with our employment law solicitors in Bristol
Maternity law + parental leave FAQs
How long is maternity leave in the UK?
If your employee is pregnant, she is guaranteed up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave which she can take as a continuous period of absence before or following the birth of her child.
During this time, it’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure she keeps all of her usual benefits and privileges (other than pay) that she is entitled to as a member of your organisation.
If you fail to do so, you could find yourself accused of sex discrimination, with the potential to be called to an Employment Tribunal to deal with the allegations. If found guilty of pregnancy sex discrimination, you could be required to pay your employee significant compensation, as well as suffering serious damage to your reputation.
How much paternity leave are fathers entitled to?
Fathers are generally entitled to 1 or 2 weeks of paid paternity leave which must be taken all at once. This leave cannot start before the child is born and must end within 56 days of the birth.
An expectant father does not need to specify the exact date their paternity leave will start. It is normal for them to instead state that they wish their leave to start at a specific date in relation to the birth e.g. on the day of the birth or 1 week after the birth.
If they wish to change the date when their paternity leave will begin, they need to give you, as their employer, at least 28 days’ notice.
How does shared parental leave work?
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) can allow an employee and their partner to split up to 50 weeks of time off work between them following the birth of their child or adoption. They can also split up to 37 weeks of pay between them.
This shared parental leave and pay needs to be used within the first year after their child is born or adopted. SPL can be taken all in one go or it can be taken in blocks, allowing the employee to work in between. An employee and their partner can take the leave at the same time or take it in turns to work and be at home with their new child.
To qualify for Shared Parental Leave, both parents need to:
- Share responsibility for the child at the time of their birth/adoption
- Meet the relevant work and pay criteria (which will depend on the circumstances)
Does an employee have the right to return to work after maternity leave?
Employees have the right to return to work after maternity leave, although exactly how this works will depend on the length of leave taken.
If they have taken 26 weeks or less of maternity leave or adoption leave, an employee has the right to return to the same job.
If they have taken more than 26 weeks of maternity leave or adoption leave, an employee has the right to return to their old job or a similar job (if it is not feasible for them to return to their old job). A similar job is one that has the same or better terms and conditions.
If they have taken more than 26 weeks’ leave and they refuse to accept a different job with the same or better conditions, this can be taken as the employee’s resignation.
An employee is required to give you a minimum of 8 weeks’ notice if they wish to change the date when they will return to work.
Can you make someone redundant when they are on maternity leave?
While on maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave, employees have the same rights with regards to redundancy as any other employee.
This means that, while you can make an employee redundant while on parental leave, you will need to go through the same process as for any other employee. This includes offering them a suitable alternative job where available and providing a clear justification for the redundancy that does not relate to the fact the employee is on parental leave.
What rights do pregnant employees have to take time off?
Employees have the right to take time off while pregnant for appropriate antenatal care. This typically includes attending medical appointments, but can also cover the need to attend antenatal or parenting classes (as long as they have been recommended by a doctor or midwife).
You will be required to pay your employee at the normal rate for any time taken off for antenatal purposes.
If your employee needs to take time off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before their baby’s due date, their Maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay will start automatically from this date.
The partner of a pregnant women is entitled to take time off (unpaid) to attend up to 2 antenatal appointments.
What benefits must employers provide during maternity leave?
Employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) while on maternity leave, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.
SMP is paid for 39 weeks, with the first 6 weeks’ pay being set at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings and the remainder being paid at the standard SMP rate or 90% of their weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
The SMP rate for the 2018-19 financial year is £145.18/week and this is reviewed every April.
To receive SMP an employee must:
- Have been working continuously for your company for a minimum of 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby’s due date
- Have average weekly earnings equal to or in excess of the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions
What happens if you are accused of sex discrimination by a pregnant employee?
If a pregnant employee accuses you of sex discrimination, they can in theory bring a claim against you at an employment tribunal. However, in most cases these types of issues can be resolved quickly and effectively without the need for formal action.
Options for resolving a pregnancy sex discrimination claim include negotiation between you and your employee (usually with the support of solicitors and potentially a trade union representative for the employee) or mediation.
This will typically result in a settlement agreement, where the employee will agree not to bring a formal employment claim over the issue in exchange for action on your part, such as making a one-off payment to the employee.
If you have been accused of sex discrimination, we strongly advise you to get in touch with our team straightaway. We can advise you on the best way to resolve the situation while protect yourself and your business.
What is the position concerning holiday entitlement during maternity leave and/or shared parental leave?
Employees continue to build up holiday entitlement while on parental leave. They can take any holiday they have accrued either before their period of parental leave or when they are due to return to work.
How do pension contributions work during parental leave?
You will usually need to continue making normal pension contributions during any paid parental leave an employee takes, but will not need to put money towards their pension during any periods of unpaid parental leave.
What are Keeping In Touch (KIT) days and how are they dealt with?
Employees can work for up to 10 days during maternity leave, adoption leave or additional paternity leave. These are known as ‘keeping in touch days’ or ‘KIT days’ and are optional, meaning both the employee and their employer need to agree to them.
Exactly when the days will take place, what type of work will be carried out and how much the employee will be paid should all be agreed in advance.
Using KIT days does not affect an employee’s rights with respect to their maternity leave, adoption leave or paternity leave.
Our employment law expertise
With decades of experience working across all areas of employment law for both employers and employees, we can provide clear, effective legal support for every aspect of maternity law and parental rights.
We can ensure your business is in full compliance with all of the relevant legislation and help to quickly resolve any issues that arise in a way that protects your business and its employees. Thanks to our experience working on these issues for both employers and employees, we can help you see things from both sides, allowing you to find the best options for dealing with maternity law and parental leave issues with minimum hassle.
Our customers consistently provide positive feedback about our customer service, with more than 70% of our business coming via referrals from existing clients.
Barcan+Kirby is Lexcel accredited by the Law Society, reflecting the strength of our practice management and customer care, and we are independently regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Contact our maternity law and parental leave solicitors in Bristol
Maternity rights and parental leave are a complex area of law that employers must be on top of to ensure you are doing the right thing for your employees and to protect your business and reputation.
To speak to our employment law solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire about any aspect of maternity and paternity leave, pay or workplace policy, call us on 0117 905 1020 or complete our online enquiry form.