Maternity & Paternity Leave: Your Rights

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So your little bundle of joy has finally arrived and you are spending your days getting to grips with the general overwhelming feeling of being a new parent.  The last thing on your mind at the early stages of parenthood is how things at the office are going!

However, it is important that before you leave the working world to enter into the new world of dirty nappies and sleepless nights that both you and your partner are fully aware of your rights to maternity and paternity leave following the birth of your baby.

Here, we have answered some of the most popular questions from new parents regarding their entitlement to maternity/paternity leave:-

When can I start my maternity leave?

All mums-to-be can start their maternity leave any time from 11 weeks before the beginning of the week when their baby is due.  If your baby arrives early, your maternity leave will start the day after your baby is born and if you are absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before your baby is due, your maternity leave will start automatically.

Is maternity leave compulsory?

We are sure there aren’t very many women out there who would wish to get straight back to work following the birth of their baby, however for those who do, it is important to be aware that as a mother, it is compulsory to take 2 weeks off work following your baby’s birth – this is extended to 4 weeks if you work in a factory.

What is Statutory Maternity Leave?

Most new mums are entitled to take 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave (which includes the 2 weeks compulsory maternity leave) and 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave.  Therefore, in total, a mother can take up to a maximum of 52 weeks maternity leave which is known as Statutory Maternity Leave.

What will I be paid during Statutory Maternity Leave?

What you are paid during your period of statutory maternity leave will vary throughout the 52 weeks if you decide to take the full period of maternity leave. The minimum maternity pay you will receive for the first 6 weeks is 90% of your average earnings.  After that, presently you will be entitled to £139.58 per week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax), whichever is lower.  This entitlement may end before the full 52 weeks is up.

Should you be lucky to work for an employer who offers over the statutory minimum then you may be paid more.

You can seek more information on whether you are entitled to statutory maternity leave and if so how much you are likely to be paid at https://www.gov.uk/pay-leave-for-parents

Is my job safe when I am on maternity leave?

Yes, when you are off on maternity leave, your employment terms and conditions are protected.  You will therefore still be able to access any work benefits which you may have as part of your employment contract.

If your employer makes contributions to a pension scheme on your behalf, they must continue to make these payments during your maternity leave.  Your entitlement to holidays will continue and you can add these days to the beginning or end of your maternity leave.

It is automatically unfair and discriminatory for your employer to dismiss you for a reason connected with your maternity leave or pregnancy. If you have been dismissed for this reason it is important to seek legal advice immediately.

Is every new mum entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave?

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave, you must satisfy two basic rules:

  • The ‘continuous employment’ rule – i.e. you have to have been working for your employer for a continuous period of 26 weeks into your ‘qualifying week’. Your qualifying week is the 15th week before the week in which your baby is due.
  • The ‘earnings’ rule – i.e. you have to have been earning, on average, an amount which equals the ‘lower earnings limit’ for that tax year.   The lower earnings limit is the amount you have to earn before you are treated as paying National Insurance contributions. In the 2014/2015 tax year the lower earnings limit was £112.00.

If you do not satisfy these rules, you may not be eligible to Statutory Maternity Leave so be sure to check with your employer whether you are eligible.

When should I tell my employer that I want to take Statutory Maternity Leave?

If you wish to take Statutory Maternity Leave, you must tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby is due. If this is not possible (for example, because you didn’t realise you were pregnant), you should tell them as soon as possible.

What about Paternity Leave?

A new father is entitled to 2 weeks of paternity leave which is paid presently at a rate of £139.58 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

What is Shared Parental Leave?

From 5th April 2015, the Work and Families (NI) Act 2015 introduced shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay to Northern Ireland.  This means that parents can share leave between themselves following the birth or adoption of a child.

In order to be eligible, you must have either given birth or adopted a child on or after 5th April 2015.  Parents now have the flexibility to share leave as long as the leave is taken between the baby’s birth and their first birthday or within a year of adoption.

Am I entitled to time off if I adopt a child?

If you adopt a child, you may have the right to 52 weeks of Statutory Adoption Leave.  This is made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Adoption Leave followed by 26 weeks of Additional Adoption Leave.

To qualify for Statutory Adoption Leave, you must be an employee and be newly matched with a child by an adoption agency (‘matched’ means that the adoption agency gives you the details of the child they think is suitable for you to adopt).

What are ‘Keeping in Touch’ days?

Keeping In Touch (‘KIT’) days are days that you can work during your Statutory Maternity Leave without losing your statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or ending your leave. During your maternity leave you are entitled to 10 days KIT days.  These days must be agreed between both you and your employer.  You are not permitted to work any KIT days during the first two weeks following the birth or adoption of a child.  If you agree to KIT days, then your employer should agree the amount you will be paid for each day.

It is important to realise that there is now more flexibility than ever before for parents of children to be able to share leave and return to the work force.  Should you have any queries regarding entitlement to leave surrounding maternity please contact us by email