Clarifying maternity and paternity rights

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By Miranda Mulligan, Solicitor specialising in Employment Law

Qualifying employees and workers benefit from certain rights in relation to maternity and paternity leave which are explored below. There are also additional rights which are engaged prior to taking such leave.

Expectant mothers, irrespective of the length of time they have been employed, are entitled to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave. This leave consists of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. Expectant mothers may also request time off with pay to attend ante-natal appointments to receive ante-natal care. The period of maternity leave can be brought to an end at any time before the expiry of the 52 weeks, however the first 2 weeks after the birth (or 4 weeks for factory workers) are compulsory and the employee cannot return to work during this period.

During maternity leave the employee is entitled to all of their normal terms and conditions of employment except insofar as it relates to pay. If an employee qualifies they may also be entitled to statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks although many employers offer enhanced maternity pay. Adoption leave and pay is also available and operates in a similar way to maternity leave.

If an employee takes only the initial 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave, she has the right to return to the same job. If the employee takes more than the 26 weeks, i.e. takes additional maternity leave, she has the right to return to the same job or a similar alternative job if that role is no longer available. This means that expectant and new mothers are in a protected position both before they go on maternity leave and upon their return. These rights to maternity leave and pay, are in addition to rights which prevent discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity.

Paternity leave is available for up to 2 weeks. Similar to maternity leave, employees who take paternity leave are entitled to their usual terms of employment except in relation to pay, although statutory paternity pay is also available. Thoseemployees who qualify are also entitled to request unpaid time off to accompany a pregnant woman to ante-natal appointments.

Since 1 December 2014 shared parental leave is also available if the child’s mother, or the primary adopter for the purposes of statutory adoption leave, curtails her statutory maternity or adoption leave therefore bringing it to an end early. The remaining leave (up to 50 weeks) can be shared with the other parent. This does not include the initial weeks of compulsory maternity or adoption leave. Statutory shared parental pay is also available for up to 37 weeks. The rights to return to the same job or a suitable alternative role operate in a similar way as upon return from maternity leave.

There are additional forms of family leave available in certain circumstances including parental leave and unpaid time off for dependents in emergency situations. All a touch confusing!

Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.