Discovering you are pregnant is often one of the most memorable moments of your life but it also signals great changes in your future. As you start to plan, one of your first concerns may be what your pregnancy rights at work are. Knowing where you stand with your employer should both reassure you and help you make all the necessary plans.
Your maternity rights and responsibilities
There are a number of things you need to understand in respect of your pregnancy rights at work. These include your right to Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay, as well as time off for antenatal care and what happens when you return to work.
Telling your employer
For many reasons, you may not want to tell your employer as soon as you find out you are pregnant. However, you do have to notify them no later than the 15th week before your baby’s due date. You must then make them aware:
- that you are pregnant;
- of the due date;
- of when you would like to go on maternity leave.
Usually, the earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before the expected due date.
You are entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments, but you should give your employer as much notice of these appointments as possible. You are not required to make up the time taken off for antenatal appointments.
As an employee, you are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, regardless how long you have been employed or your current hours of employment. This time is divided into:
- the first 26 weeks, which is known as Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML);
- the second 26 weeks, which is known as Additional Maternity Leave (AML).
You can choose when to start your maternity leave, but you cannot start it earlier than 11 weeks before your due date. While you don’t have to take the full 52 weeks, you do have to take an initial 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born (4 weeks if you work in a factory).
After your initial two- or four-week leave period, you can share up to 50 weeks of your leave by way of Shared Parental Leave with your partner, provided they are responsible for looking after the baby.
During your maternity leave, you are entitled to all of the contractual rights (such as your employer’s contribution to your pension) that you would have received if you had not been on leave, except your wages or salary.
Instead of your salary, you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is paid for up to 39 weeks. SMP normally starts when you take your maternity leave. It is made up as follows:
- 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
- £151.20* or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks
(*Correct as of May 2020. The SMP rate tends to rise every April. You will receive the new, higher rate if it changes while you are on maternity leave.)
Tax and National Insurance will be deducted. You will see from this that SMP does not cover the whole 52 weeks of your entitlement. You may not be entitled to full SMP if you had not been employed by your current employer for 26 weeks up to the 15th week before your due date.
Returning to work
You must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice if you want to change your return to work date. If you return to work at the end of your OML, you have the right to return to your old job.
If you do not return until the end of your AML, your employer does not have to offer you the same job, if to do so is not reasonably practicable. However, your employer must offer you a similar and suitable alternative job, on terms which are no less favourable than those you had with your previous job.
Discrimination as a result of your pregnancy or maternity leave
It is against the law for your employer to discriminate against you, or treat you unfairly, because you are pregnant or on maternity leave. This applies throughout what is known as your protected period. This starts at the beginning of your pregnancy and continues until the end of your maternity leave (OML or AML).
What amounts to discrimination?
You have been discriminated against if you have been treated unfavourably or placed at a disadvantage, and if your employer knew, believed, or suspected you to be pregnant. The sorts of acts that could amount to discrimination include:
- Refusing a request for time off for an antenatal appointment
- Requiring you not to be pregnant to do a particular job
- Refusal to offer you a job because you are pregnant
- Not offering you a promotion because you are pregnant
- Dismissing you because you are pregnant
- Failing to make adjustments to your working conditions or hours to avoid you being put at a significant risk due to your pregnancy
- Failure to consult you about changes to your work while you are on maternity leave
What should you do next?
If you think you have been the victim of discrimination, you should speak to your employer about it. It is often possible to deal with the matter on an informal basis. Should this not be possible, you may have to use your employer’s grievance procedure.
If you would like further information about your pregnancy rights at work and your current situation, get in touch with us today. Our expert legal team is always willing to provide you with clear and accurate advice.