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Do we really know our rights when it comes to maternity and paternity leave?

PUBLISHED: 14:29 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:03 20 September 2018

Do you know your maternity rights?  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Do you know your maternity rights? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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While we pat ourselves on the back that men and women now can take shared parental leave, Nicky Barrell argues lets get maternity rights right first.

As the daughter of a baby boomer who was taught that women could have it all - forge a career and raise children. I became pregnant in my 30s after establishing a career in the media.

This week my heart sank when I read yet another story about a woman who faced discrimination upon her return from maternity leave.The Telegraph Media Group is the latest to join the trend of companies introducing shared parental leave which was trail blazed by Aviva enabling both nums and dads to take long term paid leave.

I remember flicking through Grazia in my hospital bed after a fairly arduous labour...and it took me a full five minutes to finish the article before realising that the crying baby next to me was actually crying for me...it was a complete shock to the system.

I had all of two weeks to adjust to motherhood before receiving a phone call informing me that I was facing redundancy. I spent the next six months juggling interviews with breastfeeding and sleepless nights while constantly worrying about how I would support my newborn.

I was relieved that the company offered me a new jobbutI can barely think back to those days without feeling panic-stricken and somewhat sad - those first precious months bonding with my son were literally stolen from me.

That gorgeous baby is now a handsome tweenie - how time flies! You would have thought with the introduction of shared parental leave and constant talk of women’s rights that women would feel supported and valued whilst on maternity leave butapparently not.

A 2018 research project by the Equality and Human Rights Commission alongside the Business, Innovation and Skills found that one in nine women reported that on becoming pregnant they were either dismissed, made redundant or just forced to resign - the equivalent of 54,000 women every year.

One in five mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer or colleagues, according to the study.

In fact in my experience some of the most unsympathetic apeople in the workplace have been other women - including those whose kids have left home - maybe they’ve had a memory bypass of nappy changing and mashing up baby food, waking up through the nightand juggling child care.

Some women chose to return to work while others chose not to work but the reality is that 78% of mothers aged 25 to 54 still have a job which they have to balance with childcare

The introduction of paternity leave and shared parental leave may suit some couples but the small uptake of the Government scheme suggests that families cannot afford for Mums and Dads to take time off work. Those who workfor forward thinkingcompanies like Aviva are extremely fortunate.

In my experience, the economic reality of supporting a young family results in women still being viewed as the main carers and new dads are reduced to buying some nappies, installing the car seat or pushing their new born around the streets before rushing back to work to earn a living.

Whenever a friend or colleague announces that they are pregnant with joyful andexpectant eyes, I want to genuinely congratulate them not secretly worry about what they are about to face.

As we all keep being told the first few months of a child’s life is vital for their later development so let’s ensure that we make this time as enjoyable and stress free for working mums as possible.

Commonly asked questions:

When do I have to tell my employer I’m pregnant?

The latest time you can tell your employer that you are pregnant is the 15th week before your baby is due. Although you do not have to tell your employer any earlier you may be entitled to health and safety benefits and time off for ante natal check ups.

What is Statutory Maternity Leave (SML)?

As an employee you are entitled to statutory maternity leave of 52 weeks and this is not dependent on length of service, hours or pay.

* Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) - first 26 weeks

* Additional Maternity Leave (AML) - last 26 weeks

It is mandatory that you take 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born (or 4 weeks if you work in a factory).

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave you must:

* earn on average at least £116 a week

* give the correct notice to your employer

* Provide proof you’re pregnant (a copy of your maternity certificate (form MAT B1).

* have worked continuously for your employer for at least 26 weeks before the ‘qualifying week’ (which is the 5th week before the expected week of childbirth)

If you meet the eligibility criteria, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks and is broken down in to the following;

* 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks.

* £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

What are Keeping in Touch Days?

You can work up to 10 days during maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave. These keeping in touch days are optional - both the employee and employer need to agree to them.

Am myself and my partner entitled to sign up to the Government’s Shared Parental Leave and Pay (SPL & ShPP)You and your partner may be entitled to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if you are having a baby or adopting a child.

You can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you during the first year after your child is born or placed with your family.

What happens when maternity leave finishes?

If you take maternity leave for six months or less, you have the right to return to your job on the same terms and conditions as before you left, if the job still exists and depending on how your employment contract defines ‘the job’.

If an employee takes maternity leave for more than six months, they still have the right to return to their old job - however, if it is not reasonably practical to do so, they can be offered a similar job where they are entitled to terms and conditions which are as good.

If you want to go back to work before taking full maternity entitlement, you have to let your employer know your intentions at least eight weeks before the date you intend to return.

Employers should consider this when employing someone on a fixed term work contract to cover a period of maternity

If you want to change your hours or duties when your return from maternity leave you have the right to apply for a flexible working request.

Claire Gambrill

Senior HR Business Adviser at Prosper HR Services Limited, Dereham, advises any employee to consult with their own HR Department and to visit www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave.

You can also receive information and advice from the support group Maternity Action www.maternityaction.org.uk

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