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Maternity, paternity and adoption

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.

Maternity leave and maternity pay

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) for 39 weeks of their maternity leave, unless they have only worked for you for a short time or have very low earnings. SMP is paid at 90% of weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then 90% of weekly earnings or £138.18 per week whichever is lower for the remaining 33 weeks. Your contract of employment can offer more generous maternity pay than the statutory minimum required. SMP rates are not increased in the event of a multiple birth.

To qualify for SMP your employee must earn at least the lower earnings limit (£111 2014/15), have worked for you continuously for 26 weeks up to and including the 15th week before the baby's due date and have provided you with the necessary paperwork. New mothers not entitled to SMP may qualify for maternity allowance which can be claimed through Jobcentre Plus.

Separately, parents with young, disabled or recently adopted children have certain further rights to unpaid leave.

Paternity leave, paternity pay and adoption 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 £138.18 per week 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. This includes the right of fathers, partners and parents-to-be to take unpaid time off work to attend up to two ante-natal appointments.

Changes to parental leave from 2015

From April 2015, it will be easier for parents to share parental leave. A new mother will be able to share her maternity leave with her partner after taking the initial two weeks off following the birth of her baby (four weeks if the work is in a factory). The remaining 50 weeks' leave can be shared flexibly between the mother and her partner. Leave can be taken flexibly in blocks, together at the same time or in turns. No more than 12 months' leave in total can be taken between the mother and her partner and only nine months of that leave will be paid.

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