Finding out you are pregnant can create a whirlwind of emotions. For all the excitement, there’s also anxiety about the unknown. When it comes to considering how pregnancy will affect your job and finances, confusion often reigns. In this article we look at how pregnancy and maternity leave affects your employment rights.
Are you protected by the law?
If you’re an employee working under a contract of employment, you’re protected. That’s because all employers, regardless of size, have to comply with maternity laws. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re employed by a tiny business or a huge multinational. Nor does it matter how long you’ve been working for them – all employees are entitled to statutory maternity leave (up to 52 weeks) from the first day of employment, regardless of how many hours you work or how much you earn.
However, you will have to meet certain eligibility criteria before you qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP). At the time of writing, this criteria includes earning on average at least £116 per week and being employed by your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the “qualifying week” (15 weeks before you’re due to give birth).
Pay rises, bonuses, holiday entitlement and other benefits during maternity leave
Women on maternity leave are not entitled to receive their normal pay while on maternity leave but they are entitled to continue to receive their contractual benefits such as share options, employer pension contributions and gym membership (other than company cars provided solely for work purposes). Some, but not all employers, do provide contractual maternity pay which is more generous than SMP but there is no obligation on employers to do so.
If you qualify for SMP then you are entitled to receive it for a total of 39 weeks: you get 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, and for the next 33 weeks £145.18 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
Average weekly earnings are calculated by looking at the eight-week period ending 15 weeks before the birth. If your employer awards staff a pay rise before the end of your statutory maternity period, then you would be entitled to a top-up payment on your SMP.
When you return to work, you should be receiving the same rate of pay as comparable colleagues who have not been away on maternity leave. So if your colleagues were awarded a pay rise while you were off, you’re entitled to receive it too.
The treatment of bonuses is less clear cut. You are certainly entitled to receive any bonus which relates to the period before you went on maternity leave (even if this becomes payable while you are on maternity leave) and your compulsory maternity leave period (the first two weeks). Other than this, the position will depend on the nature of your bonus scheme and whether your bonus is a contractual entitlement. In many cases employers can lawfully pro rate bonuses to reflect the time a woman is away on maternity leave. All bonus schemes are slightly different so you may need to take specific advice on this.
You’ll continue to accrue your contractual holiday during maternity leave – so you may have a whole year’s holiday to take when you return if you have been absent for the whole 52 weeks. Many employers like employees to take the holiday which will, or has accrued in one block before the start or at the end of their maternity leave. This is less disruptive for the business and often financially better for the employee.
What about when maternity leave is over?
Many women worry that their employer will make them do a different job when they return from maternity leave, or that their employer will prefer their maternity cover and not want them back at all!
But you’ve no need to worry. The law guarantees you the right to return to the same job at the end of your maternity leave. Where that isn’t possible (for example, because the company has restructured and your job no longer exists), the company has to give you another similar and suitable job on the same terms and conditions.
Juggling work and childcare isn’t easy and while you are entitled to ask for flexible working at any time, an employer is entitled to say “no” if it has good business reasons for doing so. Failure to accommodate staff with childcaring responsibilities may be sex discrimination, depending on the circumstances.
How can we help you?
If you need advice about how your employer is treating you during your pregnancy or after you have returned from maternity leave, talk to our employment law specialists today. We’ll answer your questions and help you figure out the best way forward.