Some new and prospective mothers are suffering discrimination at work when they fall pregnant and also when they are off on maternity leave, with a minority even being made redundant at this time.
A law firm commissioned research into the issue and revealed that one in seven of those questioned had lost their jobs while away on maternity leave, with 40% reporting that their job had changed in their absence with many having to get used to a reduction in their hours or a demotion. The figures suggest too many companies have a view that women are in some way less committed than men, simply because they are mothers.
The research also showed that a third of women who returned to work after maternity leave felt they did not fit in anymore; two in five claimed they lacked support with 10% seeking help from their firm’s HR department and 3% even seeking legal advice over what they claimed to be maternity discrimination.
- The rules
Employees are allowed to take up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave and, provided you give the appropriate notice, you are able to take the leave no matter how long you have been with the employer, how many hours you work or how much you get paid. Only the self-employed, policewomen and those serving in the armed forces, those who usually work abroad and share fisherwomen do not have the automatic right to have 52 weeks of leave.
Not everyone takes 52 weeks of course; it is the women’s choice how long she takes off, although she must take the first two weeks after the baby is born, though it is four weeks for those women who work in factories.
- Employment rights
The 52 weeks entitlement is divided into two separate blocks of 26 weeks apiece. The first 26 weeks are known as Ordinary Maternity Leave in which the woman will still get the same rights under the terms of her contract of employment as she would if she was still at work. The only difference may be in the rate of pay, though most women employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
The second 26 weeks is known as Additional Maternity Leave; this follows directly on from the ordinary leave and there must not be a gap in between. The terms and conditions of employment remain the same throughout both the ordinary and the additional maternity leave.
The Statutory Maternity Pay system allows women to be paid for 39 weeks.
The first six weeks will see the new mother receive 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax. For the remaining 33 weeks the new mother will receive 90% of her average weekly wage or £138.18, whichever is the lower amount.
While it is assumed by the employer that the woman will take all 52 weeks off, she may arrange an earlier date on which the maternity leave will be at an end. If the woman wants to return to work earlier than the 52 week date, she will have to give the employer eight weeks notice in writing of the new date.