If you’ve just discovered that you’re pregnant, you may be worried about how your pregnancy will affect your job. The likelihood is you will need time off for hospital appointments and check-ups, as well as a lengthy break to have your baby and nurse it through those all-important first weeks of life.
The law has a number of provisions for protecting the rights of pregnant mothers and new parents in the workplace, and with the help of expert employment lawyers, you can ensure that all your legal rights are upheld.
The basic rights of pregnant employees
If you’ve recently discovered that you’re pregnant, it is important to know exactly what you’re entitled to.
• Legal protection against discrimination and unfair dismissal.
• The right to maternity pay
• The right to maternity leave
• Time off for antenatal care at your standard rate of pay
Antenatal care includes all the usual check-ups and scans associated with a pregnancy, but it also encompasses parenting and antenatal classes. These provisions will obviously represent an added cost to your employer, but any decision to change the terms of your employment because of your pregnancy will be viewed by the law as breach of contract.
If the company you work for is trying to change your conditions of employment, or if you’re not being paid whilst attending essential antenatal appointments during work hours, seeking the services of experienced employment lawyers will ensure your legal rights are observed. If you believe you are being made redundant due to your maternity leave you may have a claim against your employer.
Wherever possible, you should tell your employer about your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. However, there is some flexibility afforded to mothers that simply don’t realise they’re pregnant until after that point. If you are in this position, you should inform your employer as soon as possible.
The law entitles you to 52 weeks of maternity leave. The first 26 weeks is referred to as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, and the second is called ‘Additional Maternity leave’. While your employer must observe your right to 52 weeks maternity leave, you can opt to take just two weeks from the date your baby is born, or four weeks if you work in a factory.
You usually won’t be able to start your maternity leave until 11 weeks before your due date. You also have the option of starting it on the day after the birth if your baby arrives early. Should you require time off from work with an illness related to your pregnancy during the final four weeks before your due date, your maternity leave will begin with immediate effect.
Statutory maternity pay is payable for up to 39 weeks. The law states that you are entitled to at least 90 percent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks of your leave. The remaining 33 weeks is paid at a rate of £138.18 or 90 percent of your weekly earnings – whichever happens to be lower at the time. You should receive your maternity pay in exactly the same way as you receive your salary. National insurance and tax will be deducted as normal.
Statutory maternity pay is not universally available, however. You must be an employee and not a ‘worker’ in order to qualify. This means that if you have a casual or ‘zero hour’ working arrangement, you won’t be eligible for statutory maternity pay.
You can only claim if you have worked continuously for 26 weeks up to the 15th week before the week you’re due. Other qualifying criteria include giving the correct notice for your maternity leave, meeting the minimum salary level required and providing medical proof of your pregnancy.
If you believe you are the victim of maternity discrimination, or you need employment law advice on any work-related issue, seeking the counsel and services of a specialist solicitor will help you to protect your interests – and those of your family.