Understanding your rights when pregnant or on maternity leave

returning-to-work-mum-400x400The Equality and Human Rights Commission report released in July 2015 brought maternity-related discrimination to the headlines. It brought many issues surrounding pregnancy in the workplace to people’s attention and has highlighted how difficult a decision it can be to decide to start a family as a working woman.

Know Your Rights

The moment you advise your employer that you are pregnant is the moment your legal rights begin. Whilst pregnant you will be required to attend ante-natal appointments, for which you are able to take reasonable paid time off. Your partner can also accompany you to the appointment.

Maternity leave entitles you to leave of up to 12 months, with Statutory Maternity Pay for 39 of those weeks. Your contractual rights should continue during maternity leave, including accrual of holidays and pension contributions. When you return to work, you have the right to same job you had before you were pregnant if you have taken up to 26 weeks’ leave. If you have taken over 26 weeks you have the right to return to a similar position. You are also afforded greater protection if a redundancy situation occurs whilst you are on leave.

In terms of dismissal and detriment in relation to your pregnancy/maternity leave, you are of course afforded protection. If your employer dismisses you because you are pregnant or on maternity leave or your colleagues discriminate against you or subject you to detriment, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal and/or discrimination. If you are successful, you may be able to recover any loss of earnings and compensation for injury to feelings.

My Personal Experience & ‘Keeping Mum’

The way a pregnant woman or new mother is treated by her employer and co-workers can differ vastly from company to company. I am a mum of two young boys, just 22 months apart, and I am also an Employment Solicitor, currently working part-time due to my childcare commitments. I was extremely lucky to work for a thoroughly supportive employer during both of my pregnancies and maternity leaves, who on my return agreed to my flexible working request.

It is an unfortunate truth that not everyone has the same positive experience as I had. Before becoming pregnant myself, I dealt with many discrimination cases, but during my maternity leave I was given a whole new perspective. I was shocked at the number of stories I heard whilst attending Mother & Baby groups; other mums would tell me how they had been denied a bonus whilst they were pregnant, been passed over for promotion, or that their employer had told them they had got rid of their job whilst they’d been off work.

It made me genuinely upset to see mothers treated like this, especially at a time when they would be quite heavily protected with enhanced employment rights. I understood that it wasn’t easy for these mums to state their case effectively during this period of their lives when they had a child to prioritise, so I often found myself stepping out of my ‘mummy’ shoes and into ‘solicitor mode’ to give these mums the advice necessary to assist them through the difficult time they were having.

As a result of this, I decided to concentrate my efforts on pregnancy/maternity issues on my return to work and set up a campaign called ‘Keeping Mum’. This allowed me to continue to help women who have suffered discrimination in the workplace, via free legal clinics. Further to this I could also provide practical advice to employers to ensure that they support and deal correctly with pregnant employees or those on maternity leave.

My Advice for Working Women

Communicate. I feel that this is the best advice I can from the outset. Many of the cases I deal with are due to the individual feeling they have been pushed out, replaced, excluded or just forgotten about. These are completely unnecessary when it could have been handled so differently if the parties had just sat down and spoken to each other where they could then iron out any misunderstandings, potential sticking points and general worries occupying their minds.

The main message I want to convey is that being pregnant or taking maternity leave should not mean that you are treated any differently or negatively by your employer. The rights are on your side during this time and there is help and assistance available should you need it. I appreciate that this comes at an extremely emotional and important part of your life, whether that be during pregnancy or whilst you have a new baby to care for. Distressing about work-related issues should be the last thing on your mind whilst you are knee-deep in nappies, dealing with the raging hormones and all the emotions a new baby brings. You should seek advice at the earliest opportunity as time limits for bringing claims are extremely short.

About the author:

Danielle Ayres, Associate Solicitor, Gorvins Solicitors

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