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Employment Law: Maternity Leave to Career Breaks

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 24 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Employer Employee Employment Law

There are so many different aspects of employment law that can apply to any given situation. Some of the most common questions seem to revolve around time off, working hours, and maternity/paternity rights...all areas of law which have recently been revised.

How Much Time Off Work am I Entitled to?

Under UK law, all paid employees are entitled to a legal minimum amount of holiday. Since 1 October 2007, all UK employees have been entitled to a minimum of 4.8 weeks paid leave, which works out at 24 days if you work a five day week. This increases to a minimum of 5.6 weeks or 28 days from 1 April 2009

If you work part-time, you are still entitled to the same amount of holidays, just calculated pro rata, and you must start building up your holiday entitlement as soon as you start working for an employer, so you can’t be told that you’re only entitled to time off when you’ve been there six months for example. Employment law dictates that employers can, unfortunately, include bank and public holidays in your allowance. Some give them as extra – check your contract if you’re not sure.

If you fall pregnant, you still accrue annual leave during any maternity leave. The same applies to paternity and adoption leave, and if you leave an employer, you must be paid for any annual leave you haven’t yet taken, pro rata.

Maternity and Paternity Employment Law

If you or your partner fall pregnant, you’ll need to have a good idea of what you’re entitled to, leave and employment wise. In a nutshell, pregnant employees have four main legal rights:

  • paid time off for and antenatal care
  • maternity leave of 52 weeks ( which is made up from 26 weeks’ Ordinary Maternity Leave and then 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave)
  • maternity pay and benefits
  • protection from discrimination or unfair treatment based on their pregnancy.
Employers must also take reasonable steps to look after the health and safety of pregnant employees.

Maternity Leave Allowances

The legal minimum amount of statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks – check with your local benefits office to find out if you’re entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay – some women can claim this for up to 39 weeks.

You can only qualify for maternity leave if you are legally classed as an employee. If you are self-employed for tax purposes, that usually also means that you're classed as self-employed when it comes to maternity leave and other employment rights, too.

If you’re employed, many workplaces have generous maternity schemes which tend to be much better than the legal minimum amount. Have a word with your employer's HR department and see what’s available. It’s illegal for your employer to offer you less than the statutory scheme.

You’re legally entitled to 26 weeks of 'Ordinary Maternity Leave' and then another 26 weeks 'Additional Maternity Leave' and it doesn’t matter how long you've been with your employer, whether you are full or part time, or how much you're paid.

What About Paternity Leave?

As a new father, you’re entitled to paid paternity leave of either one or two weeks. The time off has to be in blocks, and if you take two weeks they have to be taken at the same time.

You can start your paternity leave on the day the baby's born, choose to take it days or weeks after the baby's born, as long as it’s between the day the child is born and 56 days after the birth.

Flexible Working – What are My Rights?

Legally, some employees have a right to ask for flexible working patterns, although not a right to get them! If you are employed and have worked for at least 26 weeks continuously for that employer, you can ask for flexible working arrangements if:

  • you have a child under six (or under 18 if they are disabled)
  • you are responsible for the child, or are the partner of someone who is legally responsible for them, and you are applying for flexible working to look after that child.
  • You care for an adult who is a partner or spouse or relative - or in some circumstances someone unrelated who lives with you.
Your employer must seriously consider any application for flexible working if you meet these criteria – and can reject it only if they have a good business case for doing so.

There is more detailed information on employment law on visiting the direct.gov.uk website.

Or you can get specific advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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