What To Do If An Employee Takes Maternity Leave

by | Jul 29, 2022

Has an employee recently come to you requesting maternity leave?

Chances are it will happen during your time managing people, and the whole thing can feel a little daunting.

Many business owners worry about how to remain sensitive to their employee’s situation whilst tackling the legalities of it all.

If that’s you, you’re in the right place.

By finding out what’s involved when an employee requests maternity leave now, you can make the process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

Keep reading through this article to get ahead of the game.

What Is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is an employee benefit available for anyone employed and pregnant.

In the UK, an employee is entitled to up to one full year of maternity leave regardless of how long they have worked at a company, how many hours a week they work or how much they get paid. The first 26 weeks of maternity leave can be referred to as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, and the next as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’.

To be eligible for Statutory Maternity Leave employees must have an employment contract and provide their employer with the correct notice. At least 15 weeks before the baby is due, an employee must give both their due date and the date on which they want to start their maternity leave.

What About Maternity Pay?

Maternity leave and maternity pay are two very different things, and some employees won’t qualify for both.

An employee’s eligibility for Statutory Maternity Pay relies on having both an employment contract and providing the correct notice, for maternity leave, plus a few extras.

An employee must also:

  • Give proof of pregnancy, usually by providing a MATB1 certificate
  • Earn at least £123 a week in an 8-week period
  • Have been on the books as an employee for at least 26 weeks prior to the 15th week before their expected week of childbirth.

As you can see, there are quite a few calculations to be made at this stage. Don’t worry. The government website has a really useful maternity pay calculator to help you work everything out accurately.

Employer Rights

An employer can’t decide whether or not an employee takes maternity leave. An employee can stay off for as long as they wish, up to 52 weeks, as long as they are eligible.

However, it is within the rights of an employer to refuse to pay Statutory Maternity Pay if an employee doesn’t qualify for it.

If the qualifiers aren’t met, it’s down to an individual company to decide what to offer. Under HMRC guidelines, to refuse SMP, an employee will need to be provided with an SMP1 form within 7 days of a decision and 28 days of their request for SMP or birth.

The SMP1 form can be found on the government website here.

Throughout The Pregnancy

The law covers an employee from the point that they become pregnant until their maternity leave ends, they quit their job or they return to work.

As soon as an employee makes their pregnancy known, an employer is required to provide the same opportunities and benefits as any other employees – this includes pay increases, promotions and bonuses.

Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments, inclusive of travel time. Not allowing them to take time out is considered discrimination. Such appointments might include:

  • Medical appointments
  • Pregnancy-related fitness classes
  • Mental health and wellbeing support sessions

Sickness And Absence

Not every pregnancy runs smoothly, either.

Employees requiring time off for maternity-related sickness have the same rights to paid sick leave as any other employee, and not permitting absences of this kind violates these rights.

Many businesses record pregnancy-related absences separately to make sure they don’t trigger a red flag in an absence policy.

If within 4 weeks of their due date, an employee is absent with pregnancy-related illness, maternity leave can be started and an employer can begin to pay maternity pay.

Health And Safety

Employers dealing with pregnant employees are required to organise an individual risk assessment for them.

The same goes for any employee who has given birth in the last 6 months or is breastfeeding, and the risk assessment should be reviewed regularly.

Work-related risks could include:

  • Stress
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Sitting or standing for long periods
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals

If a risk assessment highlights issues that cannot be changed, employers can explore and suggest other appropriate changes to support their employees.

Pregnant Employees Are Still Employees

And their rights are no less important. Many employers read up on how maternity leave and maternity pay work before it happens so they can deal with the process smoothly.

Do you feel more informed having read our article?

If the thought of an employee taking maternity leave sets your mind racing, don’t panic. There’s a lot to take in! Take the stress off, find well-matched legal support at LegalDrop and let us make this easy for you.

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