Your rights at work start long before your baby is born, so make sure you read up on them to know exactly what you’re entitled to. If you ever need a hand working out exactly what’s what, please visit direct.gov.uk.
Working in a safe environment during pregnancy
Your employer has a legal requirement to make sure new and expectant mothers work in a safe environment. They must carry out a risk assessment on your role and ensure that you do not have to work with hazardous chemicals, lift heavy loads, work in extreme temperatures, work long hours or stand for long periods of time.
The employer must take steps to remove the risk or offer suitable alternative work (with no less favourable terms and conditions); if the risk cannot be avoided and no suitable alternative work is available, the employer must give you time off on full pay, no matter how long you've been working there, to protect your health and safety or that of your unborn baby.
What about antenatal appointments?
If you need time off for any antenatal appointments during working hours, you’re entitled to paid time off for these. This even includes antenatal classes and relaxation sessions if that's what your doctor or midwife has advised. Except for the first appointment, you should show your employer, if requested, an appointment card or other documents showing that an appointment has been made.
At the moment, all pregnant employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave of up to 52 weeks. This is made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave.
To qualify for maternity leave, you must write and tell your employer about your pregnancy and your plans no later than 15 weeks before your baby is due. You must also inform them of the expected week of childbirth, by means of a medical certificate if requested, and the date you intend to start your maternity leave.
Once notification has been given to your employer they must then write to you, within 28 days of your notification, setting out your return date. You must give your employer eight weeks notice if you wish to change your return date.
You can start your maternity leave up to 11 weeks before your baby is due. Or if you would rather have more time with your baby when they’re born, you could work right up until your due date, and take the full amount afterwards.
Of course, you don’t have to take your full maternity leave entitlement if you don’t want to. But legally, you have to take at least 2 weeks compulsory leave following the birth as a recovery period, or a minimum of 4 weeks if you work in a factory.
If you've been working for your employer for 26 continuous weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due, and your average weekly earnings are at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions, you'll qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). SMP is payable for 39 weeks; you’ll receive 90% of your salary for the first six weeks and then SMP rate, or 90% of your average earnings (if that is lower), for the next 33 weeks. The SMP rate from April 2013 is £136.78 per week. The standard rate for SMP is reviewed every April.
If you don’t qualify for SMP because you’ve recently been employed or self employed, you’re self employed or have worked for your employer for less than 26 continuous weeks into your 15th week of pregnancy, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance (MA) instead. You can claim this for a maximum of 39 weeks. To qualify you must have been employed or self-employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.
Does maternity leave affect other employment benefits?
When you are on maternity leave you are still eligible for any benefits you'd usually get if you were working as normal. That includes things like payments into a pension and private healthcare. Even your annual holiday should mount up as usual.
Keeping in touch days
During maternity leave you can agree with your employer to have up to 10 "keeping in touch" days. These days can be used for training or team events or any form of work. They may make it easier for returning to work after your maternity leave. You can do up to 10 days' work during maternity leave without losing any Statutory Maternity Pay.
What are my rights once my additional maternity leave is over?
At the end of additional maternity leave, you are entitled to return to your original job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to a suitable alternative job if one is available. If your employer cannot offer suitable alternative work, you may be entitled to redundancy pay.