Most pregnant employees are entitled to maternity leave and maternity pay, while new fathers are entitled to paternity leave and paternity pay. Similar entitlements apply for employees who adopt a child.
Understanding employees’ rights is essential if you are to maintain good working relationships and avoid claims against you.
All pregnant employees are entitled to paid time-off for ante-natal care and can take up to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave. Maternity leave can begin any time from 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. New mothers must take a minimum of two weeks leave after the birth of a child (or four weeks if the mother works in a factory).
An employee who is expecting a baby has their employment rights (other than remuneration) protected throughout maternity leave. After maternity leave, mothers are generally entitled to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions. You must not discriminate against an employee for any reason to do with pregnancy or maternity leave.
Most pregnant employees will qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP) during up to 39 weeks of maternity leave, unless they have only worked for you for a short time or have very low earnings. Your contract of employment can offer more generous maternity pay than the statutory minimum required.
Separately, parents with young, disabled or recently adopted children have certain further rights to unpaid leave.
Most employees who are new fathers qualify for ordinary paternity leave when their baby is born, unless the employee has only worked for you for a short time. New fathers can take a block of either one or two weeks’ paid leave. The employee’s employment rights (other than remuneration) are protected during paternity leave.
New fathers also qualify for statutory paternity pay (SPP) unless they have only worked for you for a short time or have very low earnings. SPP is the lower of £136.78 per week (2013-14 rates) or 90% of average weekly earnings.
Some fathers may also be entitled to Additional Paternity Leave (APL). APL allows qualifying fathers to take up to 26 weeks’ leave to care for their child where the mother or co-adopter has returned to work.
APL can start at any point after 20 weeks from the child’s birth and must be completed by the child’s first birthday. If the leave is taken during their partners’ 39 week period of statutory maternity or adoption pay or maternity allowance, Additional Statutory Paternity Pay will be payable at the same rate as SPP.
An employee who adopts a child qualifies for adoption leave and adoption pay on similar grounds to those for maternity leave and maternity pay. Where a couple adopt a child, only one can claim adoption leave and pay. The other can claim paternity leave and paternity pay, regardless of gender, provided he or she qualifies.
Again, fathers and adoptive parents have further rights to unpaid leave.
More on maternity, paternity and adoption: