What Are My Maternity / Paternity Rights ? 

Your rights as an expectant mum (or dad!) can be more than a little confusing. We’ve aimed to simplify it for you by breaking it down into the key things you need to know.

 

What is maternity leave? Your rights on leave

You’re entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave if you become pregnant whilst employed. The initial 26 weeks are referred to as “ordinary maternity leave”, and the second 26 weeks are “additional” maternity leave.

Whilst there isn’t a minimum amount of time you need to have been employed before you’re allowed to take maternity leave, you must tell your employer that you’re pregnant at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. You also need to tell them the week you’re expecting to give birth (your employer might ask for a medical certificate to confirm this).

Finally you need to tell them the date which you would like your maternity leave to start. This is normally any date that is no earlier than the commencement of the 11th week before your baby is due. All of the above needs to be done in writing.

If you want to change the date you start your maternity leave, it’s essential you give your employer at least 28 days’ notice, or mutually agree a new date. If you’re off sick from work in the four weeks before your baby arrives and you can’t return, and it’s pregnancy-related, your maternity leave will automatically start on the following day.

What happens if my baby is  premature or sick ?

If your baby is born prematurely or with health needs then work should be the last thing on your mind. Many employers will have their own policies in place to support parents in these circumstances.

Remember that if your baby comes early, your maternity leave will automatically begin on the day after the birth.

In the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth, what am I entitled to ?

If you have a miscarriage, you won’t be able to claim maternity, paternity or shared parental pay or leave. Your GP will sign you off sick, and you should stay off for that full amount of time. Your usual sick pay from your employer will also kick in.

If your baby is stillborn after your twenty fourth week of pregnancy or is born alive but later passes away, you’re still entitled to full maternity rights.

Receiving maternity pay

As a pregnant employee you’ll usually be entitled to one of the following:

  • Statutory maternity pay
  • Contractual maternity pay
  • Maternity allowance

Statutory Maternity Pay

You will be eligible for statutory maternity pay (SMP) if you have been:

  • Working for the same organisation continuously for at minimum of 26 weeks which ends with the 15th week before your baby is due
  • Earning a weekly amount which is at least the lower earnings threshold for NI contributions

SMP is paid to you for 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings. For 33 weeks after that, you’ll get the standard SMP rate or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less).

For the tax year 2018-19, the rate for SMP is £145.18 per week. The amount is reviewed each April.

For more information on SMP, the Maternity Leave and Pay calculator  on Gov.uk is well worth a look.

Receiving maternity pay

You will be eligible for statutory maternity pay (SMP) if you have been:

  • Working for the same organisation continuously for at minimum of 26 weeks which ends with the 15th week before your baby is due
  • Earning a weekly amount which is at least the lower earnings threshold for NI contributions

SMP is paid to you for 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings. For 33 weeks after that, you’ll get the standard SMP rate or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less).

For the tax year 2018-19, the rate for SMP is £145.18 per week. The amount is reviewed each April.

For more information on SMP, the Maternity Leave and Pay calculator  on Gov.uk is well worth a look.

Contractual/Enhanced Maternity Pay 

Many employers will pay contractual maternity pay which is more than the statutory rate. The amount you get – and how long for – will depend on your contract of employment. For example, 26 weeks on full pay followed by 13 weeks of SMP. Contractual maternity pay will never be less than statutory maternity pay.

If your employer does offer contractual maternity pay, there is likely to be a lump sum which will need paying back if you decide not to return to work at all. If in doubt, check your contract or speak to HR or your boss.

Maternity Allowance 

If you don’t qualify for contractual or statutory maternity pay, you might be entitled to Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks paid by Jobcentre Plus. To qualify, you must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the week of your due date. Maternity allowance can be claimed once you’ve reached 26 weeks of pregnancy, although payments cannot start until 11 weeks before your due date.

To be eligible for Maternity Allowance you usually, in the 66 weeks before your baby is due must have:

  • Been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks or more (they don’t need to be consecutive weeks)
  • Earned at least £30 a week, on average, across any 13 of those 26 weeks.

How much you get depends on whether you’ve made National Insurance contributions during those 13 weeks. There may also be other circumstances that can affect the amount you can claim so why not look at the Maternity Allowance (link to https://www.gov.uk/maternity-allowance) page of the Gov.uk website.

Time off for antenatal appointments

As an expectant mum you’re entitled to a reasonable amount of paid time off for antenatal care, including travel time. The father of your baby, or your partner, is also entitled to unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments (six and a half hours for each appointment).

 

Health and safety considerations while pregnant

Once you’ve told your employer you’re pregnant, they should arrange for an assessment of the risks of your employment to both you and your baby. These risks could be anything from heavy lifting or carrying, long working hours, exposure to chemicals or other dangerous substances.

Where any risks are identified, your employer should make reasonable steps to remove them. These could be offering to change your hours or your working conditions. If it’s impossible to remove any risks, then you should be offered time off on full pay or suitable alternative work.

Returning to work after a period of maternity leave

Your job should be held open for you by your employer whilst you’re on Maternity Leave. If you are not allowed to return to work after maternity leave or are not given your old job back, or a suitable alternative, you may have a claim for automatic unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination.

If you’ve been on maternity leave for 26 weeks or less

You’re entitled to return to your exact same job after maternity leave if you’ve been away 26 weeks or less. Your pay and conditions must be the same as – or better – than if you hadn’t taken maternity leave at all.

It’s maternity discrimination (and unfair dismissal) if your employer doesn’t allow you to return to the same job.

If you’ve been on maternity leave for 26 weeks or more

It’s unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination if your employer doesn’t let you return to work at all after maternity leave, or if they offer you a different job without a strong reason. They can’t offer you a different job if:

  • Your old job still exists
  • Your job would still exist if you hadn’t taken maternity leave
  • The new job you’re being offered isn’t something you can do
  • The new job has conditions or pay that are worse than your old job – for example if you used to work part-time, and the new job is only being offered full-time

If you feel you’re being treated unfairly, you have the right to speak to HR or your boss. You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice (link) for further support.

Unfair treatment due to being pregnant or taking maternity leave

It is illegal for your employer to treat you unfairly simply because you’re pregnant. If you have a grievance, you may be able to take the matter to mediation or to negotiate with your employer before your case reaches a tribunal hearing. If you are dismissed during pregnancy or maternity leave you should be informed of the reasons in writing. You must have worked for the same employer for 12 months in order to make a claim for ordinary unfair dismissal.

  • Your old job still exists
  • Your job would still exist if you hadn’t taken maternity leave
  • The new job you’re being offered isn’t something you can do
  • The new job has conditions or pay that are worse than your old job – for example if you used to work part-time, and the new job is only being offered full-time

If you feel you’re being treated unfairly, you have the right to speak to HR or your boss. You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice (link) for further support.

Rights for Fathers

Fathers, partners and civil partners of pregnant women are eligible to take unpaid leave during working hours to go to antenatal appointments. There is no legal right to paid time off for antenatal appointments, however fathers are entitled to two weeks off on full pay when the baby is first born. Find out more on our paternity leave page.

Rights for Fathers

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) means that both mothers and fathers can share time away from work after their baby is born. This may involve going back to work for part of the time and then taking up leave again later on.

Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. They can also choose to take the pay and leave flexibly, as each parent can take up to three blocks of leave (more if their employer allows) alongside periods of work.

Find out more on our Shared Parental Leave page.