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Maternity leave rights
There may be a million things on your pre-due day checklist, but 'maternity leave' will inevitably be on there amongst 'read every name from Aaron to Zebedee' and 're-repaint the baby's room.'
While all mums-to-be are entitled to some form of maternity leave, learning the full rights and terms of your pregnancy induced absence is about as confusing as installing that new 'state of the art' car seat.
Though it might not seem important now, having some awareness of your maternity leave rights will enable you to divert your attentions away from the office and concentrate solely on the more important matters at hand.
How much maternity leave are you entitled to?
Regardless of how long you've been attached to your current company, most women are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. You are not obliged to take all of this although it is a legal requirement that you take off two weeks immediately following the birth of your child.
You are able to begin your leave at any point from the 11th week before your due date, although this will start automatically once a pregnancy related absence occurs from the fourth week prior to the birth.
How to inform your employer that you intend to take maternity leave
By the 15th week before your due date, you are required to tell your employer of your intentions to take maternity leave. This should be in writing and inform them that you are in fact pregnant, the projected date of the birth and the date from which you want to take your leave. Your employer is obligated to reply in writing within 28 days and notify you of when you are expected to return.
You may be asked to supply a medical certificate that shows the due date of your baby. These can be obtained via a GP.
Rights of employment
Though you may be out of the office, you're still entitled to the same rights as stated in your contract. The only noticeable difference will come via your pay packet where you are unlikely to receive your full amount. Some contracts may allow you to collect your usual wage, although most women will find themselves on maternity pay.
Statutory maternity pay is available for up to 39 weeks where for the first six weeks you will be entitled to 90% of your weekly average earnings. After this, you will either continue to receive this 90% rate, or move onto £138.18 per week depending on which one is lower.
Returning to work
It is assumed that you will use all of your allotted 52 weeks of maternity leave before returning to work. While this is the norm, you may come to an agreement with your employer to end your leave on an alternative date, although any desire to return sooner than this agreed date must be made known to your employer in writing, eight weeks beforehand.
Once returning to work after your second spell of 26 weeks (Additional Maternity Leave), you should be offered your previous job role. If this is not reasonably practical, you must be offered a suitable role on the same or better terms as your previous position. If an employee prohibits your return then you may be eligible to make a claim for unfair dismissal or for discrimination because of pregnancy.
If you choose to leave your job and become a full time mum after pregnancy, you are expected to pay your employer any amount that they paid to you during your maternity leave. This does not apply to those on statutory pay.
As well as maternity rights, new and prospective parents are additionally protected in the workplace. For example, employers are not allowed to discriminate against a pregnant woman nor dismiss her because of her pregnancy or related absences. You are also allowed paid time off to undergo antenatal care, providing that the amount of time off is reasonable. If this becomes unreasonable, you may be treated as sick and paid accordingly. Other rights include having a safe working environment and being allowed to return to work after the first 26 weeks of maternity leave (Ordinary Maternity Leave).
More details of maternity leave rights can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/overview