Pregnancy rights at work: How to support your pregnant employees
From maternity pay explained to return to work strategy advice, Kathryn Rodgers, founder of face2faceHR Newcastle, shares her insights into supporting pregnant employees.
Celebrating an employee’s pregnancy announcement is a joyous occasion, yet it also raises concerns about offering the best support during this important life stage.
Introducing face2faceHR Newcastle.
As a mother herself and boasting two decades of HR experience, founder Kathryn Rodgers understands the workplace challenges of pregnancy and the importance of supporting expectant employees.
face2faceHR Newcastle takes pride in delivering a friendly, personalised service that tailors solutions for your business and employees that’s free from complex jargon, ensuring you support your team in the best way.
So, whether you’ve got questions about statutory maternity pay or pondering the best return-to-work strategy, Kathryn shares her insights into supporting pregnant employees.
What happens when an employee needs time off for antenatal appointments?
Your employees have the right to paid time off for antenatal appointments and care. While most women attend 8-10 appointments during pregnancy, this varies by individual.
There’s no specific legal limit, but the law does say it should be ‘reasonable’. You can ask your employee to take unpaid leave or use annual leave, but I’d discourage this as everyone experiences pregnancy differently. Always prioritise your employees’ well-being, especially in high-risk pregnancies. Partners can accompany mums to two antenatal appointments for up to six and a half hours, with flexibility based on individual circumstances.
How to manage pregnancy-related sick leave
Pregnant employees have the same sick leave rights as others. Again, always have wellbeing as the priority, if you have a pregnant team member who clearly isn’t well enough to be at work, don’t wait for them to say they’re sick. Talk to them about their symptoms to offer support – this could mean sending them home, adjusting work duties or working location.
Don’t forget to record pregnancy-related sickness separately and exclude it from formal procedures like disciplinary or redundancy actions.
How to create a safe working environment?
The best way to understand what’s needed is to carry out a risk assessment with your pregnant employee as soon as possible after she discloses her pregnancy to talk about her role and what she might need.
For office-based teams, risks are low with safety considerations focusing on travel, not standing/sitting too long, and trip hazards. Physically demanding roles may require more changes, including lighter duties. Remember, safety needs may evolve during pregnancy, so view the assessment as an ongoing, proactive process with regular reviews.
MATERNITY LEAVE AND PAY
How long is maternity leave?
Your employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, divided into ‘ordinary’ (26 weeks) and ‘additional’ (26 weeks). The first two or four weeks are compulsory, depending on their role’s physical demands.
However, the duration of maternity leave is flexible, with plans evolving during pregnancy. The best thing to do is start discussing rights and plans early, but keep in mind that return dates can change with eight weeks’ notice. Continuous communication during pregnancy and maternity leave is key as it helps manage changes effectively.
When does maternity leave start?
Babies are unpredictable, so again this can change. Maternity leave can begin as early as 11 weeks before the due date or as late as the baby’s birth. Typically, many women work until around 37 weeks and may use annual leave before starting maternity leave near their due date.
If your employee is absent due to pregnancy-related illness within four weeks of her due date, you can trigger maternity leave, but it’s advisable for cases where return to work is risky or improbable, not for a single day’s absence.
What is the criteria for qualifying for statutory maternity pay?
Unlike maternity leave, your employees must meet set eligibility criteria before qualifying for statutory maternity pay:
- They must have told you about their pregnancy at least 15 weeks before their due date and have provided a copy of their MATB1 when issued by their midwife
- They must have been employed by you for at least 26 weeks before their qualifying week
- Their weekly pay must hit or exceed the Lower Earnings Limit set by the government (£123 for 2023-24).
HLN TOP TIP: If your employee doesn’t meet the criteria for statutory maternity pay, they may be able to claim Maternity Allowance instead.
What pay is my employee entitled to?
Statutory maternity pay varies for every employee. It’s 90% of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by either 1) the government’s set amount (currently £172.48) or 2) their actual weekly wage for the next 33 weeks.
Working out the average weekly earnings can be tricky and depends on your payroll frequency. Use the government calculator or consult your accountant before providing figures to your employees. Keep in mind that payments in the eight weeks before the qualifying week must be included, including bonuses, commission, overtime and regular salary.
Maternity leave can extend to 52 weeks, but statutory maternity pay covers only 39 weeks, with the final 13 weeks unpaid. Many women return to work at this point or may use accrued holidays before returning. During maternity leave, annual leave and bank holidays accrue as usual and once maternity leave ends and the holiday begins, your employee should be paid in full for this period.
What happens if I’m a small business?
Small businesses can typically reclaim between 92-100% of statutory maternity pay, which provides reassurance for lots of our clients. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to enhance maternity pay and most small businesses do pay statutory only.
PATERNITY LEAVE AND PAY
How long is paternity leave?
Paternity leave can last for one or two weeks, and it has to be taken in one go within eight weeks of the birth.
What pay is my employee entitled to and how to work this out?
If they meet the relevant eligibility criteria (the same as for statutory maternity pay) then they will be paid for time off at 90% of their average weekly earnings or the relevant amount set by the government.
As above, ask your accountant or use the government calculator to make sure you get this figure right and have included everything you should.
The same ability to reclaim statutory figures applies to both maternity and paternity pay – so the cost of any enhancement you may want to offer is considerably less. We wouldn’t recommend enhancing only one or the other though due to gender equality.
Can my employees share parental leave?
We’re seeing an increase in employees requesting shared parental leave, which can be complicated to manage. The simplest way to explain it is that after the compulsory maternity leave period, parents can choose to split all remaining leave and pay between them, with lots of flexibility as to how this can be done. If you get a request for shared parental leave, don’t panic – just give us a ring.
RETURN TO WORK
How do I support my employee on their return to work?
Treating people well before, during and after pregnancy in their circumstances brings huge returns of engagement and retention. Communication is key, but it varies by individual. Some prefer no contact during family leave, while others want to stay informed.
For those interested in staying in touch, whether through email or Keeping in Touch (KIT) days, discuss communication preferences when planning maternity leave. This ensures employees don’t feel disconnected, fostering engagement for their return.
What are my employee’s rights to return to the same job role?
Your employee’s right to return varies, but legally, if they return within the initial 26-week ‘ordinary’ maternity leave period, they’re entitled to the same role. Afterwards, if their previous role isn’t available, they’re entitled to an equivalent one with the same terms but possibly different tasks.
To request role or work arrangement changes on return, they can submit a flexible working request. Timing is crucial; pre-leave requests are more likely to change. They can only make one request per year under current law.
Business needs change and your employees on family leave may be affected, such as through role changes or inclusion in restructuring. If this is a possibility, start discussions early and consider alternative solutions.