Maternity and Parenting

Last reviewed on 13/02/2015 11:31

This page gives advice on pregnancy, maternity, paternity and parental leave entitlements, and other issues relating to childbirth and child care among employees.

You will also find details of legal obligations and duties related to maternity pay and allowances, and links to further information.

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New and expectant mothers and the workplace

Pregnancy and motherhood should not prevent women from developing their careers. Many women remain at work when expecting their child, and also return to work while they're breastfeeding.

Expectant mothers must notify their employer of their pregnancy and the date they intend to start maternity leave by the 15th week before the baby is due.

The expectant mother's midwife or GP will supply form MAT B1, which is the maternity certificate that proves the mother is pregnant.

The mother should send this to their employer, who must reply within four weeks of notification, giving information on leave and entitlements to maternity pay or allowance.

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Legal duties and obligations around new and expectant mothers

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Equality Act 2010 apply to new and expectant mothers.

To get the full benefit of this protection, an expectant mother must notify her employer in writing that she is pregnant, has recently given birth or is breastfeeding.

Expectant mothers are entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments and classes which are advised by their midwife or medical practitioner. The employer can ask for evidence of these appointments from the second appointment onwards.

Women are protected from unfair treatment connected with pregnancy (including dismissal) from employers and colleagues. 

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Controlling risks for new and expectant mothers

Employers must carry out a general risk assessment for their employees to assess all health and safety risks they're exposed to while at work.

As part of this process, employers should consider female employees of childbearing age, including new and expectant mothers. They should assess the risk that may arise from any process, working condition or physical, biological or chemical agent. 

If a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother (which goes beyond the normal level of risk) then the employer must temporarily alter working conditions or hours of work to remove the risk.

If this isn't possible, the employer must offer a suitable alternative job. If they can't offer this, the employer should suspend the person on full pay for as long as is necessary to avoid the risks.

The employee should also let their employer know if they've had any advice on the pregnancy from their midwife or doctor. This allows the employer to take this into consideration and review the risk assessment.

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Statutory Maternity Leave

Statutory Maternity Leave is for 52 weeks – 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML). To qualify for maternity leave, the mother must be an employee.  

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Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for 39 weeks. It's paid at 90% of the employee's average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks. The remaining 33 weeks are then paid at a standard rate (£138.18 per week) or a rate equal to 90% of the employee's average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.

Entitlement to SMP does not affect a mother's right to any other maternity payments provided by her employer, but it will still count towards those payments. Tax and National Insurance are payable on SMP.

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Maternity Allowance

If a mother doesn't qualify for SMP because, for example, her earnings are too low, she can claim Maternity Allowance from her local DWP benefits agency. The amount received depends on eligibility.

A mother may be able to get extra money for her husband, civil partner or someone else who looks after her children if that person is on a low income. To claim, form MA1 from the local DWP benefits agency must be completed.

Find out more about how to claim Maternity Allowance.

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Parental Leave

There is already a right for both parents to take unpaid parental leave for children under the age of five (or 18 in special circumstances). Parents must have worked for their employer for one year by the date they wish to take this leave.

Parents can take parental leave immediately after maternity or paternity leave, providing they give 21 days' notice. The limit on how much leave each parent can take in a year is four weeks for each child (unless the employer agrees otherwise).

Employees may be entitled to Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if:

  • their baby is due on or after 5 April 2015
  • they adopt a child on or after 5 April 2015

Until 4 April 2015, fathers may get Additional Paternity Leave and Pay instead.

Employers can also extend parental leave to those groups who aren't eligible if they wish to.

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Paternity Leave

Up to two weeks of paid paternity leave is allowed. Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is £138.18 or 90% of the partner's average weekly earnings if this is lower. Tax and National Insurance is payable on SPP in the same way as on regular wages.

Paternity leave can be taken from the date of birth, or up to 56 days from the birth (or the due date if the baby is born early).

To qualify for SPP, partners must pay tax and national insurance as an employee. They will need to have worked for their employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due and earn more than the National Insurance lower earnings limit.

They must also give their employer notice of the date they want to start paternity leave by the 15th week before the baby is due.

As an employer, you can offer more leave if you have a company paternity scheme

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Breastfeeding and returning to work

There may be risks, other than those associated with pregnancy, to consider if an employee is still breastfeeding on her return to work. These will depend on her working conditions but could include:

  • working with organic mercury
  • working with radioactive material
  • exposure to lead.

This list is not exhaustive (see the Health and Safety Executive website for further information).

Employers will need to consider any other risks that could cause harm to the employee or child's health and safety, for as long as she wishes to continue to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding and returning to work – off to a good start has been produced by NHS Health Scotland for mothers who are thinking about continuing to breastfeed on their return to work.

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Your questions on maternity and parenting

Further information on maternity, parenting and work

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive

All links are to pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

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