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Pregnancy and maternity

The law gives special protection to pregnant women at work. If you are pregnant you have the right to: 

  • paid time off for ante-natal care
  • maternity leave of at least 26 weeks (52 weeks if the week your baby is due begins on or after 1 April 2007)
  • maternity pay benefits, usually Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance, and in some cases a Sure Start Maternity Grant provided they meet certain conditions
  • protection against unfair treatment or dismissal.
    Employers also have certain obligations to ensure the health and safety of pregnant employees.

Telling your employer that you’re pregnant

You must tell your employer that you’re pregnant at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week when your baby’s due. You should also tell them when you want to start your maternity leave and receive Statutory Maternity Pay.

However, it’s a good idea to tell your employer earlier, because it will let them plan around your maternity leave and carry out their legal obligations to you. This is particularly important if there are any health and safety issues. You cannot take paid time off for ante-natal appointments until you have told your employer you are pregnant.

Maternity leave

If you’re a mother who is an employee, you have the statutory right to a minimum amount of maternity leave. Your employer may also offer their own maternity leave scheme.

Maternity leave is for 26 weeks. If you’ve been with the same employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the beginning of the week when your baby’s due, you also have the right to an extra 26 weeks of ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ so you can take up to one year in total. You may be entitled to receive Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks of the leave. It is your choice how much Maternity Leave you take.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

You are entitled to SMP for up to 39 weeks, as long as you meet the conditions. If your baby was due earlier than this then SMP is for up to 26 weeks.

If you are entitled to SMP, you will receive it even if you decide to leave your job before you start receiving SMP. You don’t have to repay it if you decide not to go back to work or leave your job whilst getting SMP.

If you are employed you can choose when you want your SMP to start. Unless your baby is born sooner, the earliest SMP can start is 11 weeks before the week your baby is due.

How much SMP you’ll get

If you are entitled to SMP, your employer will pay you 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then up to the standard rate for SMP for the remaining 33 weeks. To qualify for SMP you must pay tax and national insurance as an employee (or would pay if you earned enough).

Maternity Allowance

If you can’t get SMP from your employer, you might get Maternity Allowance (MA) if you:

  • are employed are self-employed and pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions or
  • have a Small Earnings Exception certificate 
  • are not employed but have worked close to or during your pregnancy.

The conditions are that you worked (either on an employed or self employed basis) for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the week your baby was due (a part week counts as a full week) and earned an average of £30 over any 13 of those 66 weeks. You get the standard rate of MA or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is less. If your expected week of childbirth begins on or after 1 April 2007, it is paid for up to 39 weeks. If your expected week of childbirth was earlier than this then it is paid for up to 26 weeks. MA is not liable to income tax or NI contributions

Paternity leave

If you’re a father-to-be, or you’ll be responsible with the mother for bringing up the child, you have the right to paid paternity leave providing you meet certain conditions.

You can take either one or two weeks. You can’t take odd days off, and if you take two weeks they must be taken together.

You can choose to start the leave:

  • on the day the baby’s born
  • a number of days or weeks after the baby’s born
  • from a specific date after the first day of the week in which the baby’s expected to be born.

Your leave can start on any day of the week (but not before the baby is born), but has to finish within 56 days of the baby being born or, if the baby’s born before the week it was due, within 56 days of the first day of that week. If your partner has a multiple birth, you’re only allowed one period of paternity leave.

Discrimination

It’s unlawful sex discrimination for employers to treat women less favourably because of their pregnancy or because they take maternity leave or a man for taking partnernity leave. Such treatment includes things like:

  • trying to cut your hours without your permission
  • suddenly giving you poor staff reports
  • giving you unsuitable work
  • making you redundant because of your pregnancy (you might still be made redundant for other reasons)
  • treating days off sick due to pregnancy as a disciplinary issue.

Your employer can’t change your terms and conditions of employment while you’re pregnant without your agreement. If they do, they’ll be in breach of contract.

© Trades Union Congress 2007