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A Legal Overview of Maternity and Paternity Rights

Guest article by Dominic Higgins

Having a baby inevitably brings huge demands on your time. Fortunately, the law gives parents employment rights so you can combine the responsibilities of parenthood with your career. We summarise the main maternity and paternity rights imposed by the law – but in practice your employment contract may give you better or more extensive rights.

Maternity and Paternity Leave

Mums can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, starting no more than 11 weeks before the due date. You must take at least two weeks immediately after giving birth.

Dads are entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave plus any leave allowance not used by the mother, up to a further 26 weeks. To be eligible for paternity leave, you must have worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

In 2015 there will be a big change to the maternity and paternity leave system to give parents more flexibility and make the system fairer for men. Couples will be allowed a total of 52 weeks leave which they can share between them as they like, taking their leave at the same time or in separate chunks.

Maternity and Paternity Pay

To qualify you need to have worked for your employer for 26 weeks before the 15th week before the week of the due date, and earn at least the lower earnings limit for national insurance (currently £107 per week).

Statutory maternity pay lasts for up to 39 weeks and paternity pay for the whole period of leave. Your employer must pay you 90 per cent of your earnings or (except for the first six weeks of maternity leave) £135.45 per week if this is lower.

Parental Leave and Time off for Dependants

If you have worked for your employer for more than a year, you are entitled to 18 weeks’ parental leave to deal with childcare responsibilities. You can take parental leave any time before your child’s 18th birthday, but normally not more than four weeks in a year or more than a week at a time.

In addition, you are allowed time off (normally no more than a couple of days, depending on the circumstances) for emergencies like your child falling ill, being injured, being involved in severe disciplinary issues at school or when your childcare arrangements are disrupted.

Flexible Working

Parents can request flexible working arrangements like job sharing, flexitime, or working from home via a “statutory request”. Your employer is legally obliged to consider your request fairly and cannot refuse it if there is no valid reason. They have to follow specified processes like holding a meeting to discuss the request.

The majority of employers respect the legal rights of their staff and appreciate the contribution of mothers and fathers to the workforce. However, if you feel that your employer is breaching your rights as a parent and cannot resolve this with them, you may wish to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, an employment solicitor or your trade union for help and support.

About the author
Dominic Higgins graduated in ’05 from University College London with a Law degree. Dominic now currently works for Contact Law as a contributing writer. Before working for Contact Law Dominic pursued working as a legal adviser in the South Africa and the United Kingdom; he has particular expertise in Employment and Commercial law. If you need legal help with employment issues, visit Contact Law to see how our no win no fee employment solicitors
can help you.

Image: © Ursula Deja – Fotolia.com

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