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Maternity and Paternity Entitlement

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In the United Kingdom, employees are entitled to certain maternity and paternity rights. These rights are designed to support parents in balancing work and family life. 

The Equality Act 2010 protects those who are either pregnant or on maternity/paternity leave. 

Maternity leave: The time a woman is allowed away from work before and after having a baby. 

Paternity leave: Time that a partner is allowed to have away from work after having a new baby.

It is an exciting but also usually stressful time for those about to, or have just had, a baby. This is why everyone should be sensitive to the situation, and you should make efforts to support and include those protected under this characteristic. The protection under this characteristic continues for a further 26 weeks after the day you give birth. This means that organisations are required to continue to make suitable adjustments; for instance, breastfeeding areas should be assigned, which need to be hygienic and private. This can not simply be the toilets. 

When pregnant, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of paid time off to attend antenatal appointments and should not be forced to take it unpaid or as annual leave. 

IVF and fertility treatment are not protected under the act until you become pregnant; however, creating an open line of communication with your employer may help you come to a solution where you can receive the support you need. With this said, you should not receive any unfavourable treatment because you’re going through any fertility process. Any unfavourable treatment will likely lead to you being discriminated against under the protected characteristic of sex. It’s worth noting that the Equality Act protects individuals from discrimination during the recruitment and selection process, as well as in the workplace. While the Act does not explicitly cover the adoption process as a protected characteristic, individuals going through adoption should still be treated fairly and without discrimination based on their sex, age, or any other protected characteristic.

Sex: Adoption agencies and employers should not discriminate against individuals based on their sex. Both men and women can go through the adoption process, and it is important that they are treated fairly and without discrimination throughout the process.

Age: Adoption agencies and employers should not discriminate against individuals based on their age unless there is a genuine occupational requirement. This means that individuals of any age going through the adoption process should not face unfair treatment or discrimination solely because of their age.

Pregnancy and maternity is protected differently from the rest under the Equality Act as it looks at unfavourable treatment instead of discrimination. This means that you do not have to compare your treatment against someone who isn’t pregnant or on maternity leave, whereas other characteristics would be seen in how the treatment is compared to others without that characteristic. An example would be a female raising a grievance of discrimination compared to her male colleagues, whereas someone protected under pregnancy or maternity leave would just raise the grievance as unfair treatment in general regardless of how others are treated. 

Other than maternity leave, the other rights under this part of the act are paternity, adoption, parental and shared parental leave. With all these rights, you continue to receive your standard employment rights, such as pay raises and accrued holiday days. There are specific working criteria that you have to meet to be entitled to paternity, such as being employed at the organisation for a set number of weeks.

Here’s an overview of entitlements in the UK:

Maternity Entitlement:

Statutory Maternity Leave: Eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. The first 26 weeks are known as “Ordinary Maternity Leave,” and the subsequent 26 weeks are referred to as “Additional Maternity Leave.”. At least 8 weeks’ notice needs to be given to your employer if you would like to amend your agreed return to work date.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP): To be eligible for SMP, employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks, starting with 90% of the average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by a flat rate (or 90% of average weekly earnings if lower) for the remaining 33 weeks (as of April 2023, the flat rate is £151.97 per week).

Maternity Allowance: If an employee doesn’t qualify for SMP, they may be eligible for Maternity Allowance from the government. This is a benefit paid for up to 39 weeks and is based on the employee’s National Insurance contribution record. 

Time off for antenatal care: Pregnant employees have the right to take reasonable time off for antenatal appointments, including medical examinations.

Paternity Entitlement:

Ordinary Paternity Leave: Eligible employees can take up to two weeks of Ordinary Paternity Leave (OPL). OPL must be taken in a single continuous block within eight weeks of the child’s birth.

Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP): To qualify for SPP, employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and meet certain earning criteria. SPP is paid at the statutory rate (as of April 2023, £151.97 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings if lower).

Shared Parental Leave (SPL):

SPL allows parents to share leave and pay after the birth or adoption of their child. It enables eligible mothers to end their maternity leave early and share the remaining leave and pay with their partners. SPL also allows parents to take leave simultaneously or separately. The total shared leave can be up to 50 weeks, with 37 weeks available for shared parental pay.

It’s important to note that eligibility and specific entitlements may vary based on factors such as employment status, length of service, and individual circumstances.

Employers may also provide enhanced maternity and paternity benefits beyond the statutory requirements. For detailed information and to understand your specific entitlements, it’s advisable to review the gov.uk website or seek advice from your HR department or a legal professional.

It is important to provide adequate training help reduce the risk to pregnant mothers within the workplace and to help protect the business against any wrongdoing.

Appropriate risk assessments should be carried out on newly pregnant mothers and then regularly reviewed and updated throughout the pregnancy. Those carrying out the risk assessments should be trained to do so. Risk assessments will highlight areas where specific amendments need to be made to the mother’s working arrangement. These amendments could be reducing the amount of physical labour they undertake in their day-to-day role, or if they habitually use a computer, then their Display Screen Equipment (DSE) set up should be assessed and reviewed once the business has been notified that the member of staff is pregnant. It is also important for all staff to be trained on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), this will help promote a more inclusive culture throughout the organisation and push your managers to be fairer and more inclusive in all areas of the business, from recruitment, to supporting staff that have just became parents. 

There are some great organisations to help with all things maternity and paternity.

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