Your employee has just informed you that she is pregnant.

You will have a million questions running through your head.

It’s important that, at each stage, you are on the right side of the law when it comes to the maternity leave rights bestowed upon expectant mothers.

Our Employment Law Specialists answers some commonly asked questions put forward by employers.

pregnancy and maternity discrimi

My employee has only worked for me for a month. Are they entitled to maternity leave?

Maternity leave in the UK is a day one right. This means an employee (not a worker or self-employed) is entitled to it irrespective of how long they have worked for you.

However, the employee must give the correct maternity leave notice, so they must inform you of their pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the baby is due. They must also notify you of the expected week that the baby is due and the date that they wish to begin maternity leave.

Free guide to Maternity Leave and Pay

Discover how to handle issues related to maternity leave

They have asked for time off to attend antenatal appointments. Do employees have this right?

Pregnant employees have the right to reasonable time off to attend antenatal care appointments made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner.

All employees have this right from their first day of employment. Agency workers may also obtain this right if they satisfy the qualifying period. Qualifying agency workers must have been doing the same kind of job for the same hirer for a minimum of 12 weeks in order to gain this right.

You can ask for evidence of appointments, from the second appointment onwards. Proof may include an appointment card or an equivalent document.  

When can the employee begin their maternity leave?

The employee can choose when to begin their maternity leave, but it cannot be earlier than the 11th week before the baby is due.

The baby has been born prematurely. Does maternity leave get extended? 

If a woman gives birth prematurely, maternity leave will commence on the day after the baby is born and unlike in some other countries, leave is not extended.

How long is the absolute minimum a new mother can take off?

A birth mother must take a minimum of two weeks’ Compulsory Maternity Leave after having a baby. This is extended to four weeks for factory employees.  

Am I allowed to contact the employee while she is on maternity leave?

The law allows employers to make reasonable contact during maternity leave. Before she goes on maternity leave, you should discuss how much contact she would like, who will be in touch and the best way to contact her.

You should notify them of training courses, job vacancies or promotion opportunities, as well as if there is a redundancy situation or reorganisation occurring at the company which may affect their role.

It is likely that if you do not tell your employees about promotion opportunities, possible job vacancies or redundancies, it could amount to discrimination.

Can an employee work during maternity leave?

If both you and the employee agree, she may work up to 10 days during maternity leave through Keeping In Touch (KIT) days.

Do I have to allow flexible working arrangements once the employee returns to work?

If an employee has a minimum of 26 weeks of continuous service with their employer and has not made an application for flexible working during the last 12 months, they have a statutory right to request flexible working,

New mothers may have the right to ask, but they do not have an automatic right to demand that their hours are changed on their return. Employers must, however, consider a statutory flexible working request in a reasonable manner and can only refuse a request for a clear business reason.

Can she opt-in for Shared Parental Leave?

Eligible mothers can end their maternity leave early and share up to 50 weeks of the remaining leave entitlement with the father of the baby or their partner. Find out more here.

Free guide to Maternity Leave and Pay

Discover how to handle issues related to maternity leave

The employee has not returned to work after maternity leave. Can I recoup contractual maternity pay?

If someone decides to not return after maternity leave, you may ask them to give back the enhanced contractual pay they received. However, this must have been specifically agreed upon before they took leave or be clearly stated in the company’s maternity policy. The employee will only have to repay the additional amount paid by the employer, not the Statutory Maternity Pay part of their payments.

For more information, contact Employment Law experts. Our Employment Law Adviser can guide you through all the challenges when managing maternity leave.

Keep up to date with Employment Law

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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