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Pregnancy and Maternity Employment Rights

January 9, 2024 11:48 am - Categorised in: ,

The law around maternity and pregnancy rights is changing rapidly. Recent campaigns have prompted new legislation to extend the protections and rights of pregnant employees and those on and returning from maternity leave.

Here is a quick overview of some key entitlements and fresh developments in the area:

Rights during pregnancy

There are a number of legal protections for pregnant women at work before going on maternity leave. These include:

  • Paid time off work for antenatal care and appointments. Your employer cannot force you to work extra hours to make up for this.
  • Risk assessment – your employer must check for and take reasonable steps to remove any health and safety risks at work to you or your baby.
  • Sick pay if you fall ill while you are pregnant.

Rights during maternity leave

Your statutory right as an employee is for up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. You will be entitled to further rights and protections once you are on maternity leave, including rights to:

  • Up to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay – Employees do not have this right straight away. It depends on how long you have been employed and also how much you earn.
  • Return to the same job or (in some circumstances) a suitable alternative role.
  • Work on “keeping in touch” days agreed with your employer.
  • Priority over other employees for suitable alternative employment in a redundancy situation.

Employees also have a statutory right to protection against discrimination, detrimental treatment or dismissal that is related to pregnancy or maternity.


How is the law changing?


Protection from Redundancy

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 is not the catchiest title around, but this Act is going to introduce new, enhanced protections for pregnant employees and those who have recently returned from maternity/parental leave.

The Act should be implemented in Spring 2024 and will secure protection from redundancy for many more employees, beyond just those who are on maternity leave. In particular, protection will be extended to:

  • Pregnant employees
  • Employees who have recently suffered a miscarriage
  • Employees returning from:
    • maternity leave;
    • adoption leave; or
    • shared parental leave

This means that, such employees (and those on maternity leave) must soon be given priority by employers when, in a redundancy context, considering redeployment or offering suitable alternative job roles.

We are still waiting for confirmation of the exact date when the Act will come into force. Specific details covering important things such as timescales and the length of protection will be revealed when the Government provides additional regulations.

It is hoped that this reform will be a significant step in increasing support to new parents and in tackling the issue of mothers being unfairly forced out of their jobs. However, this poses a dilemma for employers in a genuine redundancy situation. Expanding the category of employees with ‘priority’ may lead to employers being faced with more ‘priority’ employees than there are redeployment options.

Neonatal leave and pay

Following years of politicians promising neonatal leave, The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 has finally arrived. When it comes into force in April 2025, it will provide parents with the right to up to 12 weeks of leave and pay when their baby is receiving neonatal care.

This entitlement is subject to eligibility criteria, which has not yet been confirmed. This will be clarified when the Act eventually comes into force. This is a welcome development for parents, helping them to spend more time with their premature or poorly baby, which should reduce the strain in a very difficult situation.

Whilst the recent developments in safeguards and rights relating to maternity and pregnancy will offer support, protection and comfort to employees, they present uncertainty and challenges to employers. Disputes over discrimination, allegedly sham redundancies, unfair demotions and adjustments to working patterns are sadly widespread. Against this backdrop, there may be a few teething problems as employers adapt to the changes in the law.

Employers need to make sure that they have a solid understanding of their obligations to avoid opening themselves up to claims by failing to adapt to changes in the law.

It would be wise for employers to start updating their pregnancy and maternity policies in line with the incoming changes in the New Year, before revisiting them once the new legislation comes into effect.

Meanwhile, employees should ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to take full advantage of their rights and protections.

Taking reliable legal advice is a great starting point for employees and employers who want to spare themselves from stress, uncertainty and dispute, let alone lengthy and expensive employment tribunal proceedings.

If you have any queries relating to Employment Law, please contact Dylan Stanway at 5 Market Place, Ripley, Derbyshire, DE5 3BS.

Also featured in the January 2024 issue of Derbyshire Life.

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About Dylan Stanway

Dylan is a Solicitor in the Litigation department at our Ripley office. Dylan Studied LLB Law undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham. He then completed the Legal Practice Course in the first intake at the University of Law in Nottingham. Dylan lives in Beeston and enjoys running in his free time, especially in Wollaton…

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