Maternity Leave Rights
20 June 2019 by Sarah Shea
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow has recently highlighted issues surrounding maternity leave rights for MPs, due to The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) (the body which regulates MPs pay) failing to provide funding for cover for her whilst she is on maternity leave.
So what do current maternity leave rights in the UK look like?
- All pregnant employees are entitled to time off during work hours to receive antenatal care and attend antenatal appointments. This time off must be paid.
- Women are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks maternity leave, with 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and up to 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. There is a compulsory 2 week period following the birth that must be taken as maternity leave.
- During the first 6 weeks of maternity leave, employees are entitled to payment of 90% of usual weekly pay and 33 weeks of statutory maternity pay (SMP). SMP will be paid at a rate of £149 per week or 90% of usual weekly pay (whichever is lower).
- If an employee takes ordinary maternity leave, being 26 weeks’ leave, they have the right to return to the same job. The employer however will have more flexibility regarding the employee’s return if she takes any additional maternity leave.
- If the same job is not available, the employee can return to any job deemed suitable for her. However, the terms and conditions of any new job cannot be less favourable to an employee than would have been realised had they not taken additional maternity leave. The employee will have the right to request flexible working on her return to work also.
- The Equality Act 2010 provides employees with protection from dismissal, being subjected to a detriment, or discrimination by reason of pregnancy or maternity.
In 2014 the Government introduced measures that allow 50 weeks maternity leave and 37 weeks maternity pay to be shared between the parents, which is known as shared parental leave.
It is down to each employee to suggest the sharing pattern they wish to have implemented and consult with their employer. Shared parental leave can be taken at the same time or separately by each parent. There is however no requirement that shared parental leave is taken.
Keeping in touch days (“KIT days”) were introduced in 2007. These allow employees to work for up to 10 days during their maternity leave without losing the right to SMP or bring their maternity leave to an end. There is however no requirement that an employee works KIT days.
The Work and Families Act 2006 (WFA 2006) and Maternity and Parental Leave etc and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/2014) (MPL Amendment Regulations) provide made explicit provision for reasonable contact between employer and employee during the employee’s maternity leave and gave employees the opportunity to work for up to ten “keeping in touch” (KIT) days during their maternity leave without bringing that leave to an end.
In Ms Creasy’s interview she explains her own maternity experience featuring her being required to lead on a talk regarding knife crime following her own miscarriage.
Rather ironically though, if an employee has a miscarriage during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, under current legislation, she does not statutorily benefit from any special leave arrangements or rate of pay. Instead, the absence is treated as ‘pregnancy related sickness’. During such absence, the employee cannot be paid less than the sick pay given to non-pregnant employees. This means that statutory sick pay is likely to be payable to the employee, unless the employment contract provides for a better rate of pay in such circumstances.
This would be an extremely stressful and emotional time for an employee to endure and law reform is now called for to consider granting additional protection to those women who have suffered miscarriages.
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