A pregnant individual and their partner or people adopting a child have many rights to decrease the stress of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising children. While pregnant, and after, one has the right to paid time off for antenatal care.

Statutory Maternity Leave

If one is employed and pregnant, they are entitled to 52 weeks (1 year) of maternity leave, irrespective of how long one has been employed with the employer. This period is made up of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. Mothers are not compelled to take the entire period off but must take 2 weeks (or 4 weeks if they work in a factory) post-childbirth.

Those eligible are also entitled to a range of rights during this period and can also request that their employer provides flexible working arrangements when they decide to return to work at the end of their leave.

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave, one must be an employee, not a ‘worker’, and provide the employer with the correct notice. The period of employment and salary amount is not significant in being eligible. However, mothers having children through surrogacy would not be eligible for this payment but might be eligible for Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay instead.

To claim this leave, the employee must inform their employer when the baby is due and when they want to start their maternity leave. They should provide this information at least 15 weeks before their due date, and can be asked to do so in writing. The employer must write back within 28 days confirming the start and end dates.

All employment terms such as pension contributions, pay rises, and build-up (accrue) holidays are protected while on Statutory Maternity Leave. All those made redundant during their Statutory Maternity Leave are provided with additional rights.

The earliest one may commence their maternity leave is 11 weeks prior to the expected week of childbirth. If they do not begin maternity leave before birth, the leave will start the day after the birth, if the baby is early or automatically if the mother is off work for any pregnancy-related illness in the month (4 weeks) before the week that your baby is due.

Additionally, employees can work for 10 paid ‘Keeping in touch days’ (KIT), but this is only if the employer agrees to this. They may not request for more.

 Planning Childcare

Once the baby is born, the employee has several options to choose from – they may want to spend some time at home with the baby or plan to return to work, either full-time or part-time, fairly soon after childbirth. In cases where they want to return to work, they have the liberty to care for the baby through a relative at home, local childminders, and nurseries or care organized at home (which does not need to be registered).

Returning to work after Statutory Maternity Leave 

Parents of children aged 16 and under, or of disabled children aged 18 and under, are entitled to request a flexible working pattern when they return to work. There’s a specific procedure to make a request for this which includes making a statutory application (https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working/applying-for-flexible-working). One is required to give their employer at least 8 weeks’ notice if they want to change the date that they return to work.

Statutory Maternity Pay 

This is a weekly payment from employers to help during maternity leave before and after the baby is born.

To qualify for statutory maternity pay, one must earn on average at least £120 per week, give the correct notice and proof that they are pregnant, and have worked for the employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the qualifying week which is the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

If one usually earns an average of £120 or more a week, and has only earned less in certain weeks because they were on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, they may still be eligible. However, mothers will be disqualified from this pay if they go into police custody during their maternity pay period. 

Both Statutory Maternity Leave and Pay are still provided if the baby is born early, or is stillborn after the start of your 24th week of pregnancy or dies during or after birth.

 To claim payment, the employer must be given at least 28 days’ notice (sometimes in writing) of when payment to start and proof of pregnancy. This proof is required for maternity pay but not maternity leave. Proof must be provided within 21 days of the start date of the maternity pay and can be either a letter from the doctor or midwife or a MATB1 certificate (which doctors and midwives will provide no more than 20 weeks prior to the due date).

After providing the employer with notice, they must confirm within 28 days how much payment one will get and when it will start and stop. If they decide that one is not eligible, they must provide a SMP1 form within 7 days of making their decision and provide reasoning.

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for a maximum period of 39 weeks. Mothers get 90% of their average weekly earnings (prior to tax) for the first 6 weeks and £151.97 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever of the two is lower) for the next 33 weeks. This payment is made in the same time period as their wages and Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.

Maternity pay usually starts alongside maternity leave. Like maternity leave, it begins automatically if the mother is off work due to a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the week that the baby is due.

The Statutory Payment Disputes Team is the point of contact in cases where employers are unable to pay this amount or there is any dispute as to the amount to be paid.

Other Benefits 

All prescriptions and NHS dental treatment are free while pregnant and for 12 months after the due date. Children get free prescriptions until they’re 16. For these free prescriptions, ask for form FW8 and send it to the local health authority.

A maternity exemption certificate (MATEX) that lasts for 12 months after your due date will be provided that can be used to claim free prescriptions and dental care. Additionally, those pregnant and under 18 can get free milk, infant formula, vitamins, fruit, and vegetables. 

Maternity Grant 

If an employee has a low income and receives certain benefits or tax credits, and there are no other children under 16 in their family, they could get a one-off payment of a maternity grant.

Additionally, if eligible, new mothers and those pregnant might be able to gain a Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Support for Mortgage Interest, Council Tax Reduction and even Help with transport costs to the hospital to help financially during pregnancy and post-birth. These allowances are however not limited to those pregnant.

Those who do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay might be able to claim Maternity Allowance through Jobcentre Plus.

Maternity Allowance

 The amount depends on eligibility (that can be calculated here. Employees can claim Maternity Allowance as soon as they are 26 weeks pregnant. Payments can start 11 weeks before the baby is due. 

Statutory Paternity Leave 

To be fathers (including those who adopt children) and partners of those pregnant (including same-sex partners) could have the right to 1 -2 weeks paternity leave and the up to 26 weeks’ Additional Paternity Leave. Just like maternity leave, those on paternity leave have protected employment rights during their period off.

Fathers may choose to take either 1 or 2 weeks off and must take their leave in one go. Note here that the period of a week is the 7 day calendar week irrespective of the specific number of days one normally works in the week. This leave cannot start before the birth and must end within 56 days of the birth or if the baby is early on the due date. They must provide notice of the general dates they intend to take off. 

Similar to maternity pay, here too the employer must be provided 28 days’ notice if one wants to change their start date.

Outside of paternity leave, one may take unpaid leave to accompany a pregnant woman to 2 antenatal appointments if they are the baby’s father, the expectant mother’s spouse or civil partner, in a long-term relationship with the expectant mother or the intended parent (if the baby is through a surrogacy arrangement). One may take up to 6 and a half hours per appointment but can request for longer.

Statutory Paternity Pay

The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £151.97, or 90% of the average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). The money paid in the same period of income or wages. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.

To be eligible, one must be employed by the employer up to the date of birth, earn at least £120 a week (before tax), give the correct notice and have been continuously employed by the employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the ‘qualifying week’ which is the 15th week before the baby is due.

The employer must confirm the start and end dates for Paternity Pay when one claims it and one must give their employer 28 days’ notice if they want to change the date.

 Shared Parental Leave 

Parents are eligible to share parental leave and pay, splitting leave time between them. Shared Parental Leave is designed to give parents the flexibility to decide when to return to work and allow families to spend time together after childbirth. Partners are eligible for Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if they are having a baby themselves, using a surrogate to have a baby or adopting a child. Leave and pay can be shared following the first 2 weeks after the birth.

That is up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared. Parents do not have to take all of the Shared Leave at the same time but can. This leave can be taken in up to 3 blocks (each block being a minimum of 1 week each) and return to work in between. The last 13 weeks of the leave period, if they decide to take it, will be unpaid. 

There are requirements that must be met for parents to be eligible for leave and pay. Parents need to show proof of parenthood, actual or adoptive, and provide notice to their employers that they want to take off. They must also meet the length of employment criteria i.e., they must be employed continuously by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date.

If parents opt for Shared Parental Leave they will also get Statutory Shared Parental Pay. This is £151.97 a week or 90% of the average weekly earnings of the parent that is on leave, whichever is lower.

Shared parental leave allows parents to come in and work for up to 20 paid ‘Keeping in touch days (KIT), but this is pursuant to employer approval. 

Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay

This is a weekly payment to help you take time off if you adopt a child. This time and payment are for individuals who wish to take time off to adopt a child or have a child through a surrogacy arrangement. 

Conclusively, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their pregnant employees. It manifests itself by employers providing maternity and paternity pay and leave but also requires that employers assess possible risks to the employee and the baby such as through heavy lifting or carrying, standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks or long working hours. Employers must take reasonable steps to remove them.