Our overview looks at your rights at work and your entitlements on maternity leave.
This information is prepared with employees within the UK in mind. Some helpful notes for those in Ireland and further links to more information are provided below.
As a pregnant employee you have a number of legal rights - and also some obligations. We look at a summary below.
Paid time off for antenatal care
First of all, as a pregnant employee, you are entitled to take time off - and be paid as usual - to go to antenatal appointments. As such, you should not be taking annual leave, sick leave, or unpaid leave: as soon as you have an antenatal appointment date, be sure to mark it in your calendar. It’s up to you whether your work calendar shows the time as ‘Busy’ and/or ‘Out of Office’ or you mark it with ‘Antenatal Appointment’ but blocking out the time should ensure no meeting clashes occur. Your entitlement isn’t just for strictly medical appointments, but can also include antenatal or parenting classes if these are recommended by your doctor or midwife. The father - or pregnant woman’s partner - has the right to unpaid time off to go to two antenatal appointments.
This is the time you are entitled to take when your baby has arrived. There is a Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) entitlement for eligible employees of 52 weeks, with the first 26 weeks known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and the last 26 weeks is known as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. Some of this time can be taken before the baby’s arrival, with the earliest leave that can be taken being 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, unless the baby is born early. Following the birth, if you choose not to take SML it is still compulsory to take a minimum of two weeks maternity leave, extended to four weeks if you are a factory worker.
In terms of maternity pay - eligible employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for up to 39 weeks of your 52 week SML entitlement. This is a weekly sum, defined as 90% of your average weekly earnings (AWE) in the first six weeks, and then £148.68 for each of the remaining 33 weeks (or 90% of AWE if lower). Note that there is a 13 week gap without SMP if you choose to take the full 52 week SML.
Your SMP usually starts when you take your leave, but will start automatically - irrespective of previously-agreed arrangements - if you’re off work with a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week (Sunday-Saturday) that your baby is due.
If, as a pregnant employee, you choose to take Shared Parental Leave, you’ll be paid the Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP). This is paid at £148.68 a week or 90% of AWE, whichever is lower. Your employer may offer an enhanced maternity leave package, offering greater pay for a longer duration, so do consult your HR department for more details on your contractual entitlement as need be.
Telling your employer you’re pregnant
These rights are important and there to protect you but there is also one thing you must do as a pregnant employee - and that’s to tell your employer you are pregnant. You don’t need to tell them straight away, but you are required to tell them at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week (Sunday-Saturday) that the baby is due. If this is not possible - perhaps because you were not aware of being pregnant - then you must tell them as soon as you can. You must also advise as to when you wish to start your Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay, although you can change these later if you wish to.
Do also note that you cannot have time off for antenatal appointments until you’ve told the employer about the pregnancy. It’s important that your employer knows for other important reasons too: it’s against the law for an employer to discriminate, to treat unfairly, or dismiss someone just because they are pregnant. Nor can an employer change a pregnant employee’s contract terms and conditions without their agreement.
Health and safety
As an employee, your employer owes you an ongoing duty of care, however once they are aware you are pregnant they have a further responsibility to consider your role and any risks that you and your baby might face. This health and safety consideration should consider risks that could be caused by heavy lifting or carrying, exposure to toxic substances, as well as standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks, desk and workspace environment, or long working hours. If any issues are apparent, then your employer should take reasonable steps to remove these risks. This could mean offering you different work, amending your hours - and if the risks really cannot be removed, they may need to suspend you on full pay.
Do bear in mind that as you progress through your pregnancy, your circumstances may change and you may need to revisit your working arrangement accordingly with your employer.
Your rights...in Ireland
Many of the same principles are the same, except the details are different in a number of ways. Female employees are entitled to a total of 42 weeks leave, valid during and after pregnancy, with a mandatory two weeks to be taken two weeks before your expected due date, and four further weeks after it. Of this overall 42 week period, you are entitled to receive statutory mandatory benefit of €235 per week, but there is no automatic entitlement during the latter 16 weeks. As ever, individual employers can make their own arrangements and your entitlement should be clear in your employment contract.