Maternity / Paternity and Family Leave

Pregnancy and maternity rights

Pregnant women are entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave if they give the correct notice to the Employer.   They don’t have to take 52 weeks if they don’t want to, however the first 2 weeks following the birth must be taken.  This is compulsory.

Of those 52 weeks, 39 weeks may be paid.  Pay will either be on the basis of statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or contractual maternity pay.  Contractual maternity pay may be paid at a rate in excess of the statutory pay and it is sometimes paid for more than 39 weeks.   There is therefore a degree of flexibility.  The details of these arrangements are generally found in your written contract of employment.  There are however complex rules which need to be followed in respect of giving the Employer the appropriate notice when you are pregnant and wish to take maternity leave.

Employees are pregnant have the benefit of enhanced protection against unfair treatment and discrimination.   They are entitled to receive reasonable paid time off for anti-natal care.  Expectant fathers or partners of a pregnant woman also have rights in this regard. 

When an Employee is returning to work following a period of maternity leave they have the right to return to their original job or a suitable alternative.   

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure that they take into account any health and safety risk that may be posed in the context of the working environment to new and expectant mothers.  It is in those circumstances that they should carry out a proper risk assessment in respect of the woman and the baby.  This would include an analysis of long working hours, heavy lifting or carrying, sitting or standing for lengthy periods without breaks and exposure to toxic substances.  If risk cannot be avoided, the employer must then take steps to eliminate the risk or offer alternative suitable work with no less favourable terms and conditions.   

A woman whilst on maternity leave enjoys the same protection when redundancies are being either voluntarily or compulsorily offered, they must be treated in precisely the same fashion as Employees who are continuing in the working environment.

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      Paternity Rights

      Employees may be entitled to paternity leave if their partner is having a baby, adopting a child or entering a surrogacy arrangement.  In order to exercise this right and entitlement the Employee must tell the Employer that they wish to take Paternity Leave giving the appropriate notice prior to the expected week of childbirth.  It should be made clear when the baby is due, whether or not the individual is going to take 1 or 2 weeks off, and when they expect Paternity Leave to start.  Those who are eligible can choose between 1 week or 2 consecutive weeks paid Paternity Leave.   

      Shared Maternity Leave

      This is an opportunity provided which allows eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work in the first year after their child is born or adopted.   This enables the parents to share the care evenly or to have one parent take the main caring role.  This can involve a return to work for a period of time and then a resumption of leave at a later date.  Parents are effectively able to share a pot of leave and they can determine when this time can be taken.

      Time Off For Dependents

      All Employees have the right to a “reasonable” period of time off in order to deal with emergencies involving a dependent.  This leave is unpaid unless otherwise stated in the contract.  It is designed specifically to deal with unforeseen circumstances and emergencies.

      A dependent could be a spouse, partner, child, parent or an elderly neighbour with no family.