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A guide to maternity and paternity leave


As Virgin Group announces that it will grant new fathers 12 months paternity leave on full pay, we take a look at statutory maternity and paternity leave and what rights you have, given the recent changes in legislation that allows parents to share the parental leave allowance between them.

Expecting a baby is one of the most exciting times in life, so you don’t want to begin by worrying what you’re entitled to and how to get it. The good news is that at the moment new parents have more rights than ever before with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) on offer as well as traditional maternal or paternal leave.

Maternity leave: the basics

By law, mothers have to take at least two weeks off work as maternity leave after giving birth, (four if you work in a factory) although most new mums want more time than this. Employees are allowed 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) in total and usually the earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

As long as you are eligible, the whole process, including the amount of time and money you receive as well as your rights are the same whether you’re pregnant or adopting.

Your company may well have its own maternity scheme, which could be more generous than the statutory allowance. Check your employment contract for more details.

Your rights

Employees are granted certain rights with regards to maternity leave and these include not being dismissed from your job because you’re pregnant and not being forced to do unsuitable tasks whilst pregnant. If your role is not suitable for a pregnant woman, your employer must find alternative work for you or put you on leave on full pay.

You also have the right to attend antenatal appointments and to return to the same job with the same terms and conditions as before – or if that’s not appropriate, being offered an appropriate alternative role on similar terms.

What will my pay be?

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks and then £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

To make a claim, you simply have to tell your employer when you want your SMP to start and provide medical evidence (a MAT B1 form) of the date your baby is due.

Is my job secure?

This is a question that seems to come up a lot, anecdotally. By law, the company has to keep a job open for you. In most cases, they will advertise for maternity cover or ask other members of your team to cover for you. Arguably, your job is at its safest whilst on maternity leave as the protection provided by law is so rigorous.

Your employer can only make you redundant while you are on maternity leave if they can justify their choice, such as making your entire department redundant. Additional rights include the right to be offered any suitable alternative job in the company – even if there are other employees that might be more suitable for the job.

If you’re really keen to return to work, you are allowed 10 ‘keeping in touch’ days without losing your entitlements. You can also decide to return to work earlier than planned, as long as you give your employer eight weeks’ notice.

Paternity leave: the basics

You’re entitled to paternity leave if you’re the biological father of the child, the mother’s partner, or the child’s adopter or partner of the adopter. You must be an employee of a company for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due (or the end of the week when you’re notified that the adoption has gone through).

Paternity leave tends not to be as generous as maternity leave, but the good news is that there are now more choices open to you. Currently, you should be eligible for up to two weeks’ paid leave (perhaps more, check your contract of employment) as well as up to 26 weeks of additional paternity leave if your partner returns to work. Alternatively, you may qualify for Shared Parental Leave, (see below).

Your rights

Your employment rights are protected while on paternity leave. This includes your right to accrue holiday and pay rises, as well as to return to work. You can also take time off to accompany your partner (or the surrogate mother) to 2 antenatal appointments.

What will my pay be?

The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay and Additional Paternity Pay is £139.58, or 90% of your weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

Is my job secure?

It is thought that fears over job security leads to people not taking as much as they would like. However, as with maternity leave, you have the right to return to exactly the  same job on the same terms and conditions after paternity leave. You are protected  against unfair treatment or dismissal for reasons relating to paternity leave and can claim compensation in an employment tribunal.

Shared Parental Leave: the basics

Under the new rules, parents who meet certain eligibility criteria can share up to 50 weeks of leave, 37 of which are paid, after the birth or adoption of a child. Parents can choose to split the leave between them in the child’s first year, taking it at different times, or they can double up and take it at the same time.

Additionally, new flexibility means that the leave can be taken in blocks, rather than all in one go. In total, parents can book up to three blocks of leave in the course of the child’s first year, as long as they give their employer at least eight weeks’ notice, although short blocks of leave may be granted at the employer’s discretion.

Who is eligible?

In order to take advantage of the new SPL benefit, one parent must have been an employee with at least 26 weeks of service with the same employer by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due, or when matched with an adopted child. To make matters slightly more complicated, the other must also have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date and have earned at least £30 a week in 13 of the 66 weeks.

What will my pay be?

If you take Shared Parental Leave you’ll get Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP). ShPP is £139.58 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

For more information, see gov.uk or citizensadvice.org.uk