The latest on maternity rights for employees

The latest on maternity rights for employees

It's a wonderful thing to be able to share in the joy of welcoming a new baby into the world, when an employee announces her pregnancy. But, when you are running a small business and one of your few employees announces she is pregnant, you may be simultaneously happy for her and worried about the impact on your business. Just don’t voice that worry, advise experts – even if your initial reaction is ‘Oh, no, how will we manage without you?’, any comments like this can be seen as discriminatory.  Rather congratulate her and then privately consider and make allowances for any impacts on your business. 

An employee who is pregnant or returning to work after being on maternity leave brings the value of experience with them. You may find that clients who are pregnant value the advice from beauty therapists who are themselves pregnant, or have just returned to work after giving birth.  

What rights and responsibilities do pregnant or women on maternity leave here?

All her contractual rights, as set out in her employment contract, will remain the same during maternity leave. These rights include health cover, improvement in working conditions, the right to progression and increases.

A pregnant employee must give her employer due notice, which is 15 weeks before her due date. You may ask for this in writing and you should give her written confirmation of her start and end dates. There are certain things you may not do when your employee is pregnant: you may not stop their pay or ask them to make time up for time they have taken to attend classes or doctor’s appointments. Pregnant staff members have the right to take reasonable time off for these, however, you may ask to see their appointment card. The earliest that leave can be taken before the birth, unless a doctor says otherwise, is 11 weeks.

Your employee must give you at least 8 weeks’ notice if they intend to change their return to work date. If a person is off work for a pregnancy-related illness, their maternity leave will automatically start 4 weeks before the due date of the baby.

Maternity leave 

There is Ordinary Maternity Leave, which is the first 26 weeks taken, however it is split up – before the birth and after. Then there is Additional Maternity Leave which is the last 26 weeks.  It is compulsory to take 2 weeks leave immediately after the baby is born.

Who can claim maternity leave?

Any employee (not workers – see the difference here), who gives the appropriate notice, can claim maternity leave, no matter how long they have been with an employer, how many hours they work or how much they earn. The only exception is if the employee is pregnant through surrogacy in which case she is only entitled to unpaid ‘parental leave’. Maternity leave is available to women who have a baby who is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy or passes away after birth.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

An employee on maternity leave is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks which is worked out as such:

  • For the first 6 weeks she is entitled to 90% of average weekly earning.
  • For the next 33 weeks she is entitled to the statutory pay which is currently £138.18 or 90% of her average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

This is paid in the same way as wages, either monthly or weekly.

Who can claim SMP?

An employee who has worked for her employer continuously for at least 26 weeks before giving notice of the expected due date and earns on average £111 or above, per week, can claim SMP. They do need to provide correct notice and proof of pregnancy. As with maternity leave, employees who suffer a miscarriage or who’s child passes away after birth are entitled to SMP.

Holiday pay and leave accured

Holidays continue to accrue when a woman is on maternity leave and can take these. If the maternity period spans over one holiday year, it is reasonable to carry over her leave days.

Keeping in touch days 

Employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity leave. These ‘keeping in touch’ days can be used for training or reintroducing the staff member into the workplace but they are optional – both employer and employee need to agree to these.

Maternity rights are subject to updates and can be quite complex, so we would advise you ask an expert in employment law if you have any queries.