Maternity and paternity leave

Managing parental leave is one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses today. Failure to comply with your employees’ statutory rights could see your company being taken to a costly and time consuming Employment Tribunal.

Maternity leave

Every pregnant employee has the right to 52 weeks of maternity leave. This consists of 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), followed by 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML).

Pregnant employees also have the right to paid maternity leave, though the amount they receive (and who pays) depends on their length of service.

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), an employee must have continuous service for 26 weeks or more, by the end of the 15th week before their expected due date.

The first six weeks of maternity leave are paid at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings. This is followed by 33 weeks at 90% of their average weekly earnings or the rate of SMP – whichever is lower.

The current rate of SMP is £136.78; a figure that is reviewed every April.

Some small businesses have been known to offer their employees more lucrative maternity leave packages, whilst others simply meet the legal minimum requirement.

Pregnant employees who haven’t accrued 26 weeks of service can claim Maternity Allowance from the government, at a rate of £136.78 per week.

Mothers-to-be can start claiming maternity leave and pay from 26 weeks into their pregnancy.

Pregnant employees are also entitled to a range of statutory rights, including:

  • The right to return to the same job;
  • Paid time off to attend antenatal appointments; and
  • Health and safety arrangements must be made to protect the pregnant employee within the workplace.

Paternity leave

In order to claim paternity leave, fathers-to-be must have worked continuously with the business for a minimum of 26 weeks, by the end of the 15th week before their baby’s due date.

Fathers are eligible for up to two weeks paid paternity leave, which must be taken consecutively. During this time the employee receives Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) or 90% of their average weekly earnings – whichever is less.

The rate of SPP currently stands at £136.78; which is reviewed every April.

Fathers are also entitled to take up to 26 weeks Additional Paternity Leave (APL). This can commence once the child is 20 weeks old and must end by their first birthday. APL can only be taken once the mother has returned to work.

Shared parental leave

In November 2013, the coalition government confirmed its intention to press ahead with radical reforms to maternity and paternity leave.

From April 2015, mothers will be entitled to two weeks off after the baby’s birth, whilst the remaining 50 weeks can be shared between both parents. For example, new mums and dads will be able to use their leave entitlement at the same time or take alternate periods of leave.

The reforms are designed to offer working parents greater flexibility. However, critics fear that the new system will see maternity and paternity leave become even more onerous for small businesses, which already often struggle to administer changes and plan their internal resources.

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