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The anatomy of a maternity leave policy

February 20, 2017 2:45pm All News Stories  Employment Law News  anatomy_of_a_maternity_policy

It’s absolutely essential that you have a well thought out and legally compliant maternity policy in place. It’s an area of employment law which catches many employers out.

In this article, we will go through the key elements of a solid maternity leave policy.

You can also download our free Employer’s Definitive Guide to Managing Maternity Leave & Pay.

1  Notice

In your policy, you should specify when employees have to notify you of their pregnancy. By law, to be entitled to maternity leave, an employee must inform you at least 15 weeks before the baby is due. They must tell you the expected week that the baby is due and they date they wish to begin maternity leave.

You may also indicate that the employee needs to provide you with proof of their pregnancy. In this case, the employee will need to give you a medical certificate or doctor’s letter, commonly known as a MAT B1 certificate. This certificate is provided by midwives or doctors about 20 weeks before the due date.

Inform them of when they can start their maternity leave. They can begin maternity leave at any time they choose, but it cannot be earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the expected week of birth. You should also point out the circumstances where maternity leave may be triggered on a different date, for example, if they suffer from a pregnancy related illness.

2  Duration and expected day of return

In your policy, you should cover how long they are entitled to take leave and the procedure for returning to work. By law, employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. Once the employee has informed you of their pregnancy, you have 28 days to write to the employee stating her expected date of return. If the employee wishes to change the date that they return to work, they must provide you with at least 8 weeks’ notice.

It should also detail the employee’s rights once she returns to work. If an employee returns before 26 weeks of maternity leave, she is entitled to her previous job. If she returns between weeks 26 and 52 weeks, she is entitled to her old job, but if this not practicable, she must be offered a suitable similar job.

3  Keep in Touch Days

Employees can work for up to ten days during maternity leave. Your policy should detail this and how it impacts their leave and pay. It does not have the effect of bring their maternity leave to an end, nor does it affect their Statutory Maternity Pay.

4  Pay

You should lay down what employees will be paid while on maternity leave. Under the statutory scheme, eligible employees may be eligible for up to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay. If they do not fulfil all the requirements, they may be entitled to up to 39 weeks of Maternity Allowance, which is paid by the government.

If you wish to be more generous than the law provides, you may offer enhanced maternity pay. This may take many forms – you may say that the employee is entitled to their full salary for X amount of time or offer them a bonus. You may stipulate that they must have X amount of service to qualify for the extra pay or that they must repay the additional amount paid if they do not return to work (you cannot get an employee to repay you the SMP part of payments).

5  Health & Safety

You should also set out that you will take all the necessary steps to decrease and eliminate any risks that impact the health of a pregnant employee, new mother or the health of the baby. This may involve changing the employee’s working conditions or hours, offering them suitable alternative work or even suspending them from their work duties with full pay.

6  Antenatal appointments

Employers should also include a provision about the employee’s right to take a reasonable amount of paid time off during working time to attend antenatal appointments. You should explain that they will need to produce a medical certificate confirming their pregnancy and how to exercise this right, for example, they need to notify their line manager of the date and time of the appointment.

It is not enough to just have a policy in place…

It is essential to not hide the policy away, but make sure that employees are aware of its contents.  You may wish to make them sign a receipt, acknowledging that they have read and understand the policy.

The law changes on a constant basis. It never ceases to twist and turn in accordance with legislation and case law, so you must make sure that your policy or Employee Handbook is monitored, reviewed and updated to ensure that you are complying with the law and best practice.

Download our free Employer’s Definitive Guide to Managing Maternity Leave & Pay and register for our free How to Manage Maternity Leave webinar now!

Our Employment Law Advisers can draft bespoke policies that protect your organisation’s best interests. Call us and find out what we can do for you.

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