The law says you can’t be fired because you’re pregnant and you’re allowed time off work (both maternity/parental leave and time off for medical appointments). It’s worth being aware of your maternity rights at work; not least so you know if your employer is treating you fairly.
Maternity rights at work: leave
If you’re an employee, you have the right to take a year’s maternity leave (52 weeks). Your rights at work are protected while you’re on maternity leave. This means you are still eligible for pay rises and, for example, you can continue to build up holiday entitlement.
- You don’t have to have worked for your employer for a length of time to qualify for statutory maternity leave.
- You don’t have this right if you’re not an employee, such as, for example, if yourre self employed or if you’re a contract worker. If you’re working for an agency and you’re getting paid between assignments, you’re classed as working for the agency. In that case, you’re treated as an employee of the agency and are entitled to maternity leave.
SAVVY TIP: If you’re not sure whether or not you’re an employee, get in touch with ACAS, which has a free advice line. They will be able to tell you what your employment status is.
Your right to time off
You also have a right to time off for medical appointments, as well as antenatal classes and parenting classes if they’ve been recommended by your doctor or midwife.
SAVVY TIP: Your husband or partner (or the baby’s father, if it’s not the same person) has the right to unpaid time off work to go to two antenatal appointments.
Maternity rights at work: pay
Not all pregnant women are entitled to statutory maternity pay. You must have been employed by your employer for at least six months (26 weeks) continuously up until the 15th week before the beginning of the week you’re due to give birth.
You can read more about maternity pay and leave in my article called Maternity pay and maternity leave – how much will you get?
Telling your employer
You must tell your employer that you’re pregnant at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week that your baby is due. As 37 weeks is considered full term, that means you must tell your employer before the beginning of week 22. You can’t take time off for antenatal appointments until you’ve told your employer, so it’s important to do this.
SAVVY TIP: Obviously if you didn’t realise you were pregnant, this might not be possible. In that case, tell your employer as soon as you can.
Safe working while you’re pregnant
If your job involves things like long working hours, carrying or lifting or standing without the chance to have breaks, your employer should work out what the risks might be and offer to change the way you work, change your hours (if appropriate) or move you to different work, if necessary.
SAVVY TIP: If this isn’t possible, they could ask you to stay at home but still pay you (effectively suspend you on full pay). There’s lots of information about what an employer needs to take into account when doing a risk assessment on the Health & Safety Executive website. Contact your union rep, GP or the HSE if your employer won’t do what they’re supposed to.
Returning to work after you’ve taken leave
You might view your maternity leave as one chunk, but it’s in two distinct parts and there are different rights to the parts.
- Ordinary maternity leave (the first 26 weeks): you have the right to go back to your old job if you go back to work after 26 weeks.
SAVVY TIP: If your employer won’t give you your job back, you can make a claim in the tribunal for unfair dismissal or discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.
- Additional maternity leave (any time after the first 26 weeks): you have the right to go back to your old job unless it’s not ‘reasonably practical’. If that’s the case, you should be offered a job on the same terms and conditions as your old job. That means you can’t be offered another job and be paid less than you were previously.
SAVVY TIP: You don’t have a right to be offered part-time work, although all employees have the right to request flexible working. However, your employer doesn’t have to offer you the chance to work flexibly. You can read more about how Everyone has the right to ask for flexible working in my article.
Citizens Advice says it’s seen a sharp increase in the number of women contacting it for help because they’ve been discriminated against during pregnancy. Citizens Advice has more detailed information about your rights on its website.
The website Pregnant then screwed says that 54,000 women a year are forced out of their jobs due to pregnancy.
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