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Know your rights: Maternity Leave

A woman can take 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and and additional 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. The first 2 weeks maternity leave is compulsory, 4 weeks if the woman works in a factory.

At least 15 weeks before the child is expected (the qualifying week), a pregnant worker must tell her employer that she is pregnant, when the baby is due and when she intends to start her maternity leave. This can be changed, for example if the baby comes early. The employer must reply in writing setting out her expected date of return. If they don’t, she cannot be prevented from returning early and is protected from losing out if she returns later.

All pregnant workers are entitled to paid time off to attend ante-natal care. A woman is entitled to statutory maternity pay (SMP) if she has:

  • worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks before the qualifying week
  • had average earnings of at least £90 per week in the 2 months prior to the qualifying week
  • given medical evidence of pregnancy and notified the employer correctly and stopped work.

SMP amounts to 6 weeks pay at 90% of average earnings – called higher rate SMP; a further 33 weeks at a flat rate of £123.06 or 90% of average earnings, whichever is lower. You will receive it for 39 weeks in total unless you go back to work earlier. You get it even if you do not intend to go go back to work. It is paid by your employer and is subject to tax and NI. If you do not qualify for SMP you can get maternity allowance (MA). If you’ve worked for more than one employer you may get standard rate MA, which is the same as standard SMP. If you earn between £30 and £90 a week you are entitled to MA of 90% of average earnings If your employer has a contractual maternity pay scheme it will be better, though there may be an issue of paying some of the pay back if you choose not to return to work.

You are allowed contact with work during maternity leave. You are also allowed to do up to 10 days work under the Keeping in Touch scheme, for which you must be paid.

If you don’t want to return to work, you must give at least your contractual notice. An employee who returns after Ordinary Maternity Leave is entitled to return to the same job and conditions, unless there has been a redundancy situation. Anyone made redundant during maternity leave may have a claim for unfair dismissal or sex discrimination. If you have children under six you have the right to request flexible working.

For more general information on your rights at work: www.stuffyourboss.com

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