Q: I have recently found out I am pregnant. I haven’t told my employer yet as I want to find out as much as I can so I know if I am being treated fairly. What exactly are my rights?
A: Understanding your rights in any situation can be daunting. There is a lot of information on the gov.uk website but it can be summarised as follows:
paid time off for antenatal care
up to 39 weeks of maternity pay
up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave
protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal
‘Antenatal care’ means medical appointments as well as antenatal or parenting classes if they have been recommended by a doctor or a midwife. However, you are not allowed to take time off for antenatal appointments until you have told your employer about the pregnancy.
I would advise that you tell your employer you are pregnant as soon as possible not only so you’re entitled to the time off but also so that you are protected from exposure to any risks to both you and the baby. You don’t say whether you work in a lab or an office but whatever the case your employer must perform a risk assessment for heavy lifting, standing or sitting for long periods, long hours and of course exposure to toxic substances.
If there are any such risks then an employer is obliged to remove them, even if that means offering alternative work or, as a last resort, suspension on full pay. If you are concerned about any risks then talk with your health and safety or trade union representative.
If you want to wait to let your employer know, that is your right but you have to tell them a minimum of 15 weeks before the baby is due, this is called your qualifying week. By this time you must also tell your employer when you want to start both your maternity pay and your maternity leave.
If you have worked for your employer for more than 26 weeks before your qualifying week, then you are entitled to the minimum statutory maternity pay:
Six weeks paid at (usually) 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax
33 weeks paid at £135.45 or 90% of your average weekly earnings per week (whichever is lower)
You may get more if your company has a maternity scheme
If you haven’t worked for 26 weeks then you will be entitled to maternity allowance, which is 39 weeks paid at £135.45 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). You can also get this if you have been self-employed or recently stopped working.
As long as you give your employer the correct notice, you are entitled to maternity leave no matter how long you have worked for your current employer. You need to be an ‘employee’ to be eligible for this, rather than a ‘worker’. This means you should have a minimum number of hours, you pay tax and national insurance and you get holiday pay. You are entitled to 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave and it is compulsory for you to take at least two weeks off after the birth. The father of your child (or your partner) is also entitled to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave and may have the right to take up to 26 weeks of additional paternity leave if you go back to work. If you want to return to work before the end of the 52 weeks you must give eight weeks’ notice.
You can also work up to 10 days while you’re on leave. These ‘keeping in touch days’ are optional and both you and your employer need to agree to them. These may be paid by your employer, but you should check.
Protection against unfair treatment
Your employer isn’t allowed to change your contract terms and conditions without agreement from you. This protection entitles you to any pay rises and improvements given while you are on leave. You will also continue to build up holiday entitlement and you can take this before or after your maternity leave.
If your company makes redundancies while you are on maternity leave you can still be made redundant but you have the same redundancy rights as your colleagues and have the right to be offered a suitable alternative role. You cannot be made redundant just because you are on maternity leave.
Finally, you do not have to return to work and you will get maternity pay even if you don’t. If and when you do return, you have the right to return to your original job if you have only had ordinary maternity leave (26 weeks). If you have taken additional maternity leave then you have the right to your original job, or one with the same or better terms and conditions if it is not possible to give you your previous role.
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