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Employment law guide

Working parents' rights

Maternity leave and pay

All pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable time off for antenatal care.

From the first day of employment there is an entitlement to 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks additional maternity leave.

If the employee has worked continuously for the same employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the child is due she is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), if her average weekly earnings are at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions, for the first 39 weeks.

The rate of SMP is 90% of average weekly wages for the first 6 weeks and then the statutory rate for SMP for the remaining 33 weeks (unless 90% is less than the statutory rate in which case she receives that amount instead).

At the end of ordinary maternity leave an employee is entitled to return to the job in which she was employed before absence.

At the end of additional maternity leave an employee may return to the job in which she was employed before absence unless it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to permit her to return to that job, in which case she is entitled to return to another job which is suitable for and appropriate for her to return to in the circumstances.

Paternity leave and pay

Employees must have or expect to have responsibility for the child’s upbringing, be the biological father of the child or the mother’s husband or partner, and have worked continuously for their employer for 26 weeks leading into the 15th week before the baby is due to qualify for paternity leave.

Eligible employees are entitled to choose to take either one week or two consecutive weeks’ paternity leave. They can choose to start their leave after the date of the child’s birth (whether this is earlier or later than expected), or from a chosen date.

Leave can start on any day of the week on or following the child’s birth but must be completed within 56 days of the actual date of birth of the child, or if the child is born early, within the period from the actual date of birth up to 56 days after the expected week of birth.

Only one period of leave will be available to employees irrespective of whether more than one child is born as the result of the same pregnancy.

During their paternity leave, employees who earn over the NI lower earnings limit are entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) from their employers, paid at the lesser of the statutory rate or 90% of average weekly wages.

Employees are required to inform their employers of their intention to take paternity leave by the fifteenth week before the baby is expected, unless this is not reasonably practicable.  They will need to tell their employers the week the baby is due and whether they wish to take one or two weeks’ leave, and when they want their leave to start.

Employees are entitled to the benefit of their normal terms and conditions of employment, apart from wages or salary, throughout their paternity leave. Most employees will be entitled to SPP for this period. Employees are entitled to return to the same job following paternity leave.

Additional paternity leave and pay was also available to new fathers before April 5th 2015, but after that date has been replaced by Shared Parental Leave and Pay.

Shared parental leave and pay

From April 2015 qualifying new parents have had the opportunity to share the balance of the mother’s 52 weeks of statutory leave and 39 weeks of statutory pay as shared parental leave and shared parental pay, after the mother opts to end her maternity leave and pay early.

Shared parental leave and pay came into effect for babies due, or placed for adoption, on or after April 5th 2015.

Shared parental leave can be taken at any time in the first year following the child’s birth or placement for adoption.

The pattern of leave must be agreed between the employer and employee, with eight weeks’ notice required.
Shared parental leave can be taken in one go, or in up to three separate blocks of leave. If their employer agrees, the employee can split a block of leave into shorter periods of at least a week.

Statutory Shared Parental Pay (SSPP) is paid at the statutory rate or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Unpaid parental leave

Working parents with one year’s service with their employer are entitled to unpaid parental leave to care for a child. The right applies to parents and to a person who has obtained formal parental responsibility. 

The entitlement is 18 weeks’ parental leave for each child and the employee’s right to take the leave last until the child’s 18th birthday.

The employee will remain employed while on parental leave. Where the leave taken is for a period of 4 weeks or less, the employee will be entitled to go back to the same job. If the leave is for more than 4 weeks an employee is guaranteed the right to return to the same job as before, or, if that is not practicable, a similar job which has the same or better status, terms and conditions as the old job.

Time off for family and dependants

All employees have the right to take a reasonable period of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, and not to be dismissed or victimised for doing so. The right enables employees to deal with an unexpected or sudden problem and make any necessary longer-term arrangements.

Unpaid time off to accompany partner to ante-natal appointments

Fathers and partners have the right to take unpaid time off work to accompany expectant mothers to up to two ante-natal appointments.

The father of a baby or the partner (including same sex) of a pregnant woman is entitled to take unpaid time off work to accompany the woman to up to two of her ante-natal appointments. The time off is capped at six and a half hours for each appointment.

An employer is entitled to ask the employee for a declaration stating the date and time of the appointment, that the employee qualifies for the unpaid time off through his or her relationship with the mother or child, and that the time off is for the purpose of attending an antenatal appointment with the expectant mother that has been made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, nurse or midwife.

Adoption leave and pay

An employee who adopts a child has similar rights to a mother who gives birth to a child. Adoption leave and pay will be available to individuals who adopt and one member of a couple where a couple adopt jointly (the couple may choose which partner takes adoption leave). To qualify for adoption leave, an employee must be newly matched with a child for adoption by an approved adoption agency, and to be eligible for statutory adoption pay they have worked continuously for their employer for 26 weeks leading into the week in which they are notified of being matched with a child for adoption. Adopters will be entitled to up to 26 weeks’ ordinary adoption leave followed immediately by up to 26 weeks’ additional adoption leave - a total of up to 52 weeks’ leave. Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) can be paid for up 39 weeks. With effect from April 6th 2015, the rate of SAP is 90% of average weekly wages for the first 6 weeks and then the statutory rate for the remaining 33 weeks (unless 90% is less than the statutory rate in which case the adopter receives that amount instead).

Adopters have a right to a certain amount of time off work for adoption appointments before a child is placed with them for adoption.