A large proportion of the UK workforce are parents. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2021, 75% of mothers and 92% of fathers were in employment. So it is highly likely that you are employing parents right now, or will do in the future.
With changing attitudes towards work-life balance and flexibility, it’s important for you as an employer to understand your responsibilities.
This guide will provide you with an overview of everything you need to know about family-friendly workplace leave.
Maternity rights apply to pregnant employees and new mothers. These rights are protected under the Equality Act 2010 from the start of pregnancy to the end of maternity leave.
During the maternity period, employees are subject to the same terms and conditions as they usually are, except for pay.
Time off for appointments – Pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable time off with pay for antenatal appointments and care.
Partners have the right to take unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments (at a maximum of 6.5 hours for each). You can request an appointment card or other proof to confirm the schedule of these appointments if you wish.
Pregnancy related absence
Be careful when dealing with sickness absence during pregnancy. Normal episodes of illness can be dealt with in the usual way, but anything relating to pregnancy (including issues that are more difficult to determine if it’s related or not, such as sickness) should be treated as pregnancy related and therefore not dealt with in the same way that you would manage normal absence.
Take time to assess whether any absences have been work-related, and if necessary, make reasonable adjustments to help your employee get back to work. That may mean more breaks, altered hours, or a more comfortable workstation.
When it comes to maternity leave, pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks off work.
Employees must notify you 15 weeks before the baby’s due date, at a minimum. They should supply you with a MATB1 form with confirmation of the expected due date. Employees should also inform you of when they plan to begin their maternity leave (but this can change for example if the baby arrives before the due date).
Of course, it’s difficult to predict how a pregnant employee may feel during pregnancy, so it’s normal the start of maternity leave may change depending on how the pregnancy progresses. Ideally, they should give you at least 28 days’ notice of any change, or alternatively come to an agreement with you regarding a new start date.
If your pregnant employee is absent with a pregnancy-related sickness in the four weeks before the baby is due, maternity leave will automatically begin the following day.
Ordinary maternity leave cannot begin until 11 weeks before the due date, unless the baby is born before then.
Additional maternity leave starts after week 26 of ordinary maternity leave (unless your employee returns to work at this point) and lasts up to 26 weeks. If your employee qualifies, they should receive statutory maternity pay for the first 13 weeks of additional maternity leave. The remaining time is unpaid unless you have a more generous arrangement in your contract.
All employees must take a minimum of two weeks’ maternity leave, which starts the day the baby is born.
Partners of pregnant employees are entitled to statutory paternity leave. That’s one or two weeks’ leave on statutory paternity pay in addition to normal holiday allowance. Parental leave cannot be taken before the birth or adoption of a child. Parental leave must end within 56 days of the birth, due date, or adoption.
Works in a similar way to maternity leave, with 26 weeks ordinary adoption leave, and 26 weeks additional adoption leave. The start date may be the date the child starts living with adoptive parents or 14 days prior. The date your employee is matched with a child, when a child arrives from overseas, or the day of birth in cases of surrogacy.
Shared parental leave
New parents are allowed to split up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay. It can be taken in blocks, in one go, or separated by periods of working.
Keeping in Touch Days
Employees can work for up to 10 days during maternity leave or adoption leave without it coming to an end. These are called keeping in touch (KIT) days and employees must be paid their usual daily rate of pay for each, even if they only work one hour. It is up to you to agree these days with your employee. KIT days are optional – both the employee and employer need to agree to them.
Employees can work up to 20 days during Shared Parental Leave. These are called ‘shared parental leave in touch’ (or SPLIT) days. These days are in addition to the 10 ‘keeping in touch’ (or KIT) days already available to employees on maternity or adoption leave.
This is time for parents (usually unpaid) to be with their child if they are ill, if childcare arrangements fail, or for other unexpected problems. Parents qualify if they’ve worked for you for more than one year and have children under the age of 18. They have the right to request up to 18 weeks unpaid, per child. You must take all requests seriously, although you may postpone requests for up to six months if it will cause disruption to your business.
Occasionally pregnancy ends with miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. You must navigate these sensitive times with compassion, while also understanding what happens next.
Miscarriage – A miscarriage occurs before the 24th week of pregnancy. Employees experiencing miscarriage are not entitled to maternity, paternity, or shared parental leave.
If your employee is not well enough to work during this time, they may take sick leave that is treated in the same way as a pregnancy-related illness. The employee can claim contractual or statutory sick pay for a period of time as stated in your sickness absence policy.
Alternatively, you can consider providing compassionate leave in such circumstances, or arranging a period of annual leave.
Stillbirth or neonatal death – Losing a baby after 24 weeks is classified as stillbirth, or neonatal death if a baby dies after being born. In both situations, all maternity leave rights apply, as does paternity leave. Shared parental leave is a little different though. If parents have given notice, they are entitled to take leave as booked. If not, shared parental leave is lost. To cancel any shared parental leave, your employee should ideally give eight weeks’ notice. Alternatively, you may agree to a change at your discretion.
Both parents have a right to take two weeks’ parental bereavement leave during the year following death.
Upcoming legislation you should be aware of
Legislation will be coming in 2024 related to neonatal care and pregnancy protection from redundancy
Employees will have a day one right to Neonatal Leave if the baby is admitted into hospital aged 28 days or less and is in hospital for a continuous period of 7 days or more. The maximum amount of leave available is 12 weeks. To be taken in one block at the end of maternity/paternity leave.
Statutory neonatal pay will be subject to 26 weeks’ service and earning above the lower earnings limit (currently £123 per week).
Notice should be given, although very short informal notice will be acceptable when leave is taken very soon after the hospital admission. One week’s notice will be expected where leave begins at a stage where the baby has not recently been admitted.
Pregnancy protection from redundancy – When a company is facing a redundancy situation, those who are on maternity leave must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy where one exists. Going forward this will apply to adoption/shared parental leave. In addition, the protection will apply from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether verbally or in writing. The protection will end 18 months after the birth.
If you’d like any help with anything that’s been discussed in this guide, or any of your other HR needs, we’d love to talk. Get in touch today firstname.lastname@example.org or 0131 364 4186.
Albany HR can help with:
- Family Friendly Policies
- Flexible Working Requests
- Pregnancy Risk Assessments
- Return to Work Interviews