It is an extremely emotional time when you become aware that you are pregnant and you will have plenty to think about, not least what happens at work.
How long is maternity leave?
A pregnant employee has the right to 52 weeks' maternity leave. 39 of these weeks could be paid (although this could be longer if your employment contract allows for contractual maternity pay).
When should I tell my employer that I'm pregnant?
To qualify for maternity leave, you must tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the baby is due:
1. that you are pregnant,
2. the expected week of childbirth, by means of a medical certificate (MATB1) if requested
3. the date you intend to start maternity leave.
However, it is usually advisable to tell your employer as soon as possible of the pregnancy as there are various benefits in doing so.
Within 28 days of your notification to your employer, they must write to you setting out your return date. You must give eight weeks' notice to change the return date.
When can maternity leave begin?
Maternity leave can start on any date, but ordinarily no earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the baby is due.
Maternity leave will automatically start four weeks before the baby is due if you are off work for pregnancy-related illness. If the baby arrives early, the leave will start on the day after the birth.
What's the difference between Ordinary and Additional Maternity Leave?
The first 26 weeks of maternity leave are known as Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML). The following 26 weeks are known as Additional Maternity Leave (AML).
At the end of OML, you have the right to return to your old job.
At the end of AML, your rights are slightly different. While you have the right to return to your old job, if it is not practical for the employer to offer your old job back, it must offer you appropriate similar employment. This should be on no less favourable terms and should not affect your seniority or pension conditions.
What other rights do I have at work while I am pregnant?
Firstly, you are entitled to reasonable time off with pay for antenatal care. Your partner is entitled to take time off work to go to two antenatal appointments.
Secondly, employers must take into account any health and safety risks to expectant mothers. Risks could include heavy lifting, working long hours, or exposure to certain substances. If a risk cannot be avoided or removed the employer must offer different suitable employment.
What will I get paid?
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) will be payable if:
• You have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and;
• You have an average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.
It is payable for up to 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the statutory maternity pay rate (£139.58, increasing to £140.98 from 2 April 2017) or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is the lower).
Alternatively, under your employment contract you may be entitled to claim contractual maternity pay at a higher rate than SMP. This could be available for longer than 39 weeks, depending on your employment contract.
If you do not qualify for SMP, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks.
If you would like clarification on your parental rights, contact a specialist employment solicitor for advice.