During Pregnancy - Before Maternity Leave
All pregnant female employees are now entitled to a total of 52 weeks’ maternity leave. This comprises 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave.Employment and maternity regulations have changed. It is no longer the case that the employee needs to have completed 26 weeks’ continuous service with her employer by the 15th week before her Expected Week of Childbirth (“EWC”) to qualify for Additional Maternity Leave. Additionally, all expecting mothers with an EWC are entitled to receive all contractual benefits (excluding remuneration) during AML as well as during OML (effective since 5th October 2008). This will include benefits such as gym memberships, but not those which are exclusively provided for work, such as a mobile phone which is not permitted for personal use.
As soon as the employer is informed of the employee’s pregnancy, a pregnancy risk assessment must be conducted to assist in the identification of any risk to the employee’s health or to the health of her child. In the event that the pregnancy risk assessment identifies potential hazards and risks, these must be removed or alternative arrangements made to circumvent those potential hazards and risks.
While still at work, before commencing her maternity leave, a woman will need to attend a number of ante-natal appointments and may choose to attend certain ante-natal classes as advised by her doctor or midwife. It is within a pregnant employee's maternity leave rights to take paid time off work to do this. Employers may require evidence in the form of an appointment card for any meetings after the first one.
Employees have the right to time off to accompany a pregnant woman to up to two antenatal care appointments, if the employee is the father of the baby, or the partner of the pregnant woman. There is no right to be paid for the time off and the employee can take a maximum of six and a half hours for each appointment.
Crucially, employment and maternity regulations stipulate that employers must ensure that pregnant employees are not treated unfairly by their superiors or any colleagues in the workplace. Unfair treatment related to pregnancy or maternity leave is classed as sex discrimination and an infringement of the woman's maternity leave rights. An employer will be liable for any such discrimination that takes place, either by colleagues or management.
A pregnant employee must inform her employer of her EWC by the fifteenth week before that date. It is recommended that the employee informs the employer of her EWC as soon as she is informed herself.
After the 21st week of pregnancy, the employee will be presented with an MATB1 certificate by her GP or midwife. This certificate will confirm the expected date of childbirth. Once this document has been received, the employee should send it, along with a covering letter, to her employer. At this point, the employee can also inform their employer of the date on which they wish to commence their maternity leave. This information should also be in the hands of the employer by the 15th week before the EWC.
Once an employee has informed her employer of her chosen maternity leave start date, the employer has 28 days in which to inform the employee of the date that she is due back at work from maternity leave.
For employers, this is also the time to work out how much Statutory Maternity Pay will be given to the employee during her maternity leave.