There are various forms of statutory leave entitlement including maternity and adoption leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave and unpaid parental leave. Individuals also have the statutory right to apply for flexible working and to take time off for dependants.
Maternity leave and pay
- All employees qualify for 52 weeks “statutory maternity leave”, regardless of the length of service.
- A pregnant employee is entitled to: a period of ordinary maternity leave (OML) of 26 weeks followed by additional maternity leave (AML) of 26 weeks. It applies only to “employees”, whether they are full time or part time, fixed term or permanent, but is not available to the self-employed or those who come within the statutory definition of “worker”. During the leave, the employee is entitled to the benefit of the terms of her employment, except remuneration, which would have applied if she had not been absent and remains bound by any of her contractual obligations that are compatible with being on maternity leave.
- The employee must satisfy certain notification requirements but at the end of OML the employee has the right to return to her original job.
- If a redundancy situation arises, she must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy if one is available in preference to any affected employee who is not on maternity leave.
- At the end of the AML the employee is entitled to return to her original job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to a suitable alternative job.
- Statutory maternity pay is payable for up to 39 weeks. (In order to qualify the employee must have at least 26 weeks service by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and earnings above the Lower Earnings Limit for NI purposes).
- A woman may work during her maternity leave for up to ten days for her employer (referred to as “keeping in touch” (KIT) days) without bringing her OML or AML to an end.
- Paid time off to keep appointments for ante-natal care made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor. Ante-natal care may include relaxation classes and parenting classes. The employee must show her employer (if it so requests) a certificate from a doctor and an appointment card. The time off should be paid. It is unlawful for an employer to dismiss an employee or to select her for redundancy in preference to other comparable employees, solely or mainly because she has sought to assert her statutory right to ante-natal care.
- Protection from dismissal or detriment. An employer may not dismiss an employee or select her for redundancy on grounds related to pregnancy or childbirth. A woman dismissed in these circumstances may make a complaint of automatically unfair dismissal, regardless of her length of service.
- There may be additional contractual rights to maternity leave and maternity pay, at the employer’s discretion.
- One half of an adopting couple (which includes civil partners) will be able to take adoption leave, the other half may be able to take paternity leave.
- Adoption leave mirrors maternity leave and pay.
- An employee who has 26 weeks’ continuous employment ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth and is the biological father of the child or is married to or the partner (which includes civil partners) of the child’s mother and expects to have responsibility for the upbringing of the child will qualify for up to two weeks’ paid paternity leave.
- Leave must normally be completed within 56 days from the birth of the child and must be taken to care for the child or support the mother.
- The rights during and after paternity leave are the same as for OML.
Shared parental leave
- The mother or adopter may opt to curtail their leave entitlement and instead share their leave and pay entitlement with their partner.
- This could mean that the mother or adopter shares some of the leave with her partner, perhaps returning to work for part of the time and then resuming leave at a later date.
- The mother/ adopter still has to take a minimum 2-weeks’ leave at the birth/ adoption. However, provided they meet the eligibility criteria they can then convert up to 50 weeks’ of their maternity/ adoption leave and 37 weeks’ of their statutory pay.
Unpaid parental leave
- Not to be confused with the Shared Parental Leave rights, this allows parents with one year’s service who have responsibility for a child to take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child up until the child’s 18th birthday.
Employees with at least 6 months’ service have the right to request a change in certain of their terms and conditions of employment:
- A change to the hours they work.
- A change to the times when they are required to work.
- To work from a different location (for example, from home).
Time off for dependants
- All employees are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (for example, if a dependant falls ill or is injured, if care arrangements break down, or to arrange or attend a dependant’s funeral).
- An employee is protected against dismissal for exercising this right.