In this day and age, the traditional view that following childbirth a woman would stay at home and not return to work has changed.
The majority of businesses and employers need to understand their obligations regarding pregnancy and maternity rights. Furthermore, all working parents including fathers and civil partners as well as mothers, have rights under employment law.
“An estimated 54,000 pregnant women and working mothers are made redundant or are pressured to leave their jobs each year.”
The Fawcett Society’s ‘Sex Discrimination Law Review’
“Each year, there are over 500,000 pregnant women in the workplace, many of whom go on to take a period of maternity leave before returning to work. One in every 20 of these women are made redundant during their pregnancy, maternity leave or on their return, equivalent to 6% of all pregnant women and new mothers at work.”
Maternity Action report on ‘Unfair Redundancies during Pregnancy, Maternity Leave And Return To Work’
It is crucial that an employer understands their obligations to prevent problems escalating. Below are a few questions and answers you need to be aware of as an employer:
One of my employees has told me she is pregnant, what should I be doing?
- consider a risk assessment to check that she is comfortable and safe performing all aspects of her role, making adjustments to her role if needed, work with her to discuss this
- allow her time off work to attend ante-natal appointments
- be open and supportive to her in discussing arrangements for her taking maternity leave (if applicable) and any cover that is being brought in while she is on leave
- be alert to the possibility of absences at short notice, especially as the estimated week of childbirth nears
My employee’s partner is pregnant but she doesn’t work for me, am I obliged to do anything?
- a father or civil partner is entitled to take unpaid time off to attend up to 2 ante-natal appointments
- be alert to the possibility that they may need time off at short notice if complications develop or their partner is unwell
- be supportive in discussing options for paternity leave etc
My employee is looking to adopt a child, they aren’t entitled to time off for this are they?
- yes, employees adopting a child have rights to take adoption leave and adoption pay
How long is maternity leave and when does it start and are they entitled to pay?
- An employee can take maternity leave from 15 weeks before the estimated week of childbirth, they can choose when to commence this and must give you notice.
- An employee must take 2 weeks compulsory maternity leave after the birth of a child, they can take up to 52 weeks
- Entitlement to both maternity leave and maternity pay is subject to qualifying conditions based on their length of service, employment status and rate of pay
Is the partner of a pregnant employee entitled to any time off at the time of the birth and are they entitled to pay?
- yes, paternity leave of 1 or 2 weeks can be taken by the partner. Subject to qualifying conditions based on their length of service, employment status and rate of pay, they are entitled to receive pay
- they may also wish to take annual leave at this time and it would be wise to be prepared for this at short notice.
My employee’s partner is pregnant, my employee has asked about sharing leave after the child has been born so his partner can return to work, is this allowed and are they entitled to pay?
- yes, Shared Parental Leave has been introduced that allows the two parents of a baby to share up to 50 weeks of leave in the first year of the babies life. This can be split in any way they wish.
- if a request for continuous shared parental leave is submitted i.e. one period, then this cannot be rejected
- if a request is made for discontinuous shared parental leave is made i.e. numerous periods in and out of work, then this can be rejected dependant on the business need, but it is highly recommended to consider this in consultation with the employee
- various forms of written notice must be given by the employee and their partner to take shared parental leave
- subject to qualifying conditions relating to service, employment status and rate of pay, the employee is entitled to take shared parental leave pay
My employee is on maternity / adoption / shared parental leave – they want to come in for a day to ‘keep in touch’ – are they allowed?
- yes, anyone on these forms of parental leave is entitled to up to 10 Keeping in Touch days (maternity/adoption leave) or 20 In Touch days (shared parental leave)
- any dates to do this should be agreed between employee and employer
- the employee is entitled to be paid their normal rate of pay
My business is struggling, I need to make redundancies, it will be easier for me to make my employee who is on maternity / adoption / shared parental leave redundant as this will cause less problems in the workplace, is this ok?
- No. You should ensure that you follow a proper redundancy procedure with all affected staff included in your pool for selection, not just those on these forms of parental leave
- if someone is on these forms of parental leave, they should be given preferential treatment during a redundancy i.e. where a suitable alternative role exists they should be moved into this role
- you should ensure you include the employee on leave in all correspondence relating to the redundancy and make arrangements to consult with them
Business has been going well while my employee has been on maternity / adoption / shared parental leave – I don’t want to upset things by getting rid of the maternity cover when my employee returns, can I just tell them we don’t have a job for them anymore?
- No. It is unlawful to treat someone detrimentally because they have been on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave
- It is unlawful to dismiss someone because they have been on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave
My employee has just returned from maternity / adoption / shared parental leave – as a working parent they don’t have any additional rights now do they?
- Yes they do.
- they are entitled to make a flexible working request which you must consider fairly
- they are entitled to unpaid parental leave (18 weeks unpaid leave up to their child’s 18th birthday)
- they are entitled to emergency time off for dependants
What can my employee do anyway, if I don’t bother doing these things?
- An employee can bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal for Pregnancy/Maternity Discrimination or for Detriment because they are pregnant or have taken parental leave or exercised parental rights or for Unfair Dismissal
- These proceedings can be costly to you and can take your time away from running your business. They can also have reputational damage as Employment Tribunal proceedings are public.
What should your business do now to prevent these issues arising?
Howells would recommend that as an employer you have a policy setting out clearly what your commitment is to family friendly rights including any provision for contractual payments during periods of leave and procedures to be followed.
If you have any concerns or are unsure how to handle requests made by your employee do not hesitate to contact us using the form below. We are here to help and provide reassurance and guidance on these difficult issues.