There is now a great deal of legislation surrounding maternity leave and the rights that women have, both during and after pregnancy. A pregnant employee probably has more employment protection than any other worker.
Additional rights to parental leave (which apply to both parents) were introduced in December 1999 and further changes come into effect on a fairly regular basis.
Women in the UK have the right to take maternity leave and to have their jobs held open for them for certain time periods. There is no qualifying service required to take Maternity Leave or to have Ante Natal Leave. However you do need a certain amount of continuous service as an employee before you are entitled to paid leave from your Employer.
A pregnant woman can rely upon her unique condition to demonstrate direct or indirect sex discrimination. A woman also now has the right not to be victimised on grounds of pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. Some forms of employment protection also continue whilst a woman continues to breastfeed her baby.
Shared parental leave and pay
Shared Parental Leave came into effect in 2015. It enables eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption. This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date.
The options to use the new Shared Parental Leave rights apply for parents who meet the eligibility criteria, where a baby was born on or after 5 April 2015, or for children who are placed for adoption on or after that date. It is the due date that counts, not the date when the baby is actually born.
- Employed mothers will continue to be entitled to 52 weeks of Maternity Leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance as before.
- If they choose to do so, an eligible mother can end her maternity leave early and, with her partner or the child’s father, will be able to opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. If they both meet the qualifying requirements and both qualify, they will need to decide how they divide their total Shared Parental Leave and pay entitlement between them
- Paid Paternity Leave of two weeks will continue to be available to fathers and a mother’s or adopter’s partners. Additional paternity leave has been replaced by the new shared leave options.
- Adopters now have the same rights as other parents to Shared Parental leave and pay
- Intended parents in surrogacy who meet certain criteria will be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay and Shared Parental Leave and pay
- Fathers, partners and in certain circumstances intended surrogacy parents are entitled to unpaid time off to attend up to two ante-natal appointments – this came into effect in October 2015