Understanding your workplace rights as a new mother
You are entitled to take up to one year’s statutory maternity leave regardless of your length of service. This consists of 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) followed by 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML). During this time you are entitled to the benefit of all of the terms and conditions of employment which would have applied had you not been absent, except for the terms and conditions relating to pay. You must take a minimum of two weeks’ maternity leave from the day of birth.
Statutory maternity pay lasts for 39 weeks for those who qualify. Non-eligible individuals may qualify for Maternity Allowance. The first 6 weeks are paid at 90% of normal pay, the remaining 33 weeks at a standard rate (currently £148.68). Contracts of employment may provide for more generous terms and/or payments.
You are entitled to work for your employer during maternity leave for up to 10 days without bringing that leave to an end. These are known as “keeping in touch” (KIT) days. You should receive your normal rate of pay for days worked. However you cannot insist on being given KIT days and neither can your employer require you to work any.
Statutory paid annual leave (5.6 weeks) continues to accrue during ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave.
If you take only ordinary maternity leave or return before the end of ordinary maternity leave, you will be entitled to return to the same job in which you were employed before your absence. After additional maternity leave you are generally entitled to return to work to the same job, on the same terms and conditions as if you had not been absent.
But, if there is some reason (other than redundancy) why it is not reasonably practicable for your employer to permit you to return to the same job (for example, if there has been a reorganisation), your employer has more flexibility.
Employees on maternity leave have special protection from redundancy. Where a redundancy situation means it is not practical to continue to employ you on maternity leave under your existing contract of employment, you must be offered any suitable alternative vacancy and are given priority over and above any another employee who is also at risk of redundancy but not on maternity leave. This can be with an associated company. The terms and conditions must not be substantially less favourable than those of the previous contract.
This preferential treatment of women on maternity leave over other employees during a redundancy procedure is a rare example of lawful positive discrimination.
Your employer is under a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety which you are exposed to while at work. Your employer is required to record the findings of the assessment, but is not obliged to hand over those findings to you if information about the risks is provided orally.
An employer that employs any women of child-bearing age to do work of a kind that could involve risk to the health and safety of a new or expectant mother or her baby from any processes, working conditions or physical, chemical or biological agents, must include an assessment of those risks in its risk assessment.
Breastfeeding covers both feeding the baby and expressing milk. Your employer must provide suitable facilities for breastfeeding mothers to rest (including facilities to lie down) and to provide adequate rest and meal breaks. Toilets are not “suitable facilities”.
There is no statutory right to time off work for breastfeeding. There is also no legislation which requires the provision of facilities for breastfeeding itself. However, the Health & Safety Executive guidance recommends that other facilities (such as a private, clean environment, other than the toilets, for expressing milk and a fridge for storing it) should be provided.
All employees with a child under 17 have the right to request flexible working. Your employer must give proper consideration to the request using the required statutory procedures.
Regardless of their length of service, if you are dismissed when you are on maternity leave you are entitled to receive written reasons for your dismissal without having to request them.
It is automatically unfair to dismiss a female employee or select her for redundancy due to maternity. There is no minimum qualifying service period.
If you are expecting or have recently had a baby and you are unsure of your rights at work, our factsheet will help. If you would like any further advice, please contact us on 01273 609911, or email email@example.com to speak with our specialist Employment Law Team.
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