Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Leave

Last month we kicked off our series of articles related to flexible working by introducing you to the new right for parents to request flexibility at work. As you will recall, as part of the government’s commitment to helping working parents balance the needs of their home life with that of work, a number of changes have been introduced to existing legislation and there has also been the introduction of new measures. In this month’s issue we will continue this theme as we discuss the changes to existing maternity rights and the introduction of two new rights; paternity leave and adoption leave.

Maternity Leave – Extended Rights
The calculation of maternity leave has never been easy for either employers or employees to calculate as those of you who have tried it will testify! However, the new changes will not only simplify the process but also provide pregnant employees with enhanced entitlements. Great news for employees but obviously a further financial and logistical challenge for employers.

Who is eligible to apply?
Under the new arrangements, pregnant employees will now be entitled to 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave (normally paid), irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer. In addition, under new legislation, women who have completed 26 weeks continuous service at the 15th week prior to their EWC can take a further 26 weeks additional maternity leave (normally unpaid).

How should you notify your employer?
Pregnant employees should notify their employers in writing of their intention to take maternity leave by the 15th week prior to their EWC stating that they are pregnant, setting out the week that their baby is expected to be born and the date they want to commence maternity leave. Naturally, before making the request, you may wish to check with your employer as they may have developed their own procedures. There are no other requirements for the employee regarding notification but if she wants to cut short her maternity leave to return early, she must give her employer 28 days notice of the date she intends to go back.

How should employers respond?
Under these changes there is a new requirement for employers to respond to a woman’s maternity leave notification within 28 days of receiving her request and they need to set out the date on which they expect her to return to work if she takes her full entitlement. Employers are no longer required to write to the employee before the end of the ordinary maternity leave to ask for the date the baby was born and whether or not she will be taking the additional maternity leave.

Has Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) changed?
In short, yes. Women who are entitled to SMP and whose EWC begins after 6th April 2003, will receive the benefit for 26 weeks. From the 6th April 2003, the standard rate of SMP will increase from £75 to £100 per week (or 90% of her average weekly earnings if less than £100 per week.) In essence, a woman will get SMP from her employer of 90% of her average earnings for the first 6 weeks, followed by 20 weeks at £100.

Paternity Leave
On the 6th April 2003 the government will introduce the new right for Paternity leave and pay as part of its continued commitment to help working parents balance the needs of their home life with that of work. The new provisions will permit the eligible employee to take up to two weeks leave with pay (Statutory Paternity Pay – see below)

Who is eligible to apply?
In order to take advantage of this right, the individual must have been employed by their current company continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the 15th week before the baby is expected and be the biological father of the child or the mother’s husband or partner. In addition, they must have, or expect to have, responsibility for the upbringing of the child.

What will I be eligible for?
Eligible employees will be able to choose one or two consecutive weeks but not odd days. The leave can start either; from the date the child is born; from a chosen number of days or weeks after the child is born; or on a chosen date. Whilst leave can start on any day of the week it must be taken within 56 days of the actual date of the child’s birth.

What happens if we have twins or more?
Only one period of leave is allowed irrespective of how many children are born as a result of the same pregnancy.

How should you make a request?
Employees should make their request in writing before the 15th week before the baby is expected, setting out the week in which the baby is due, whether they would like to take one or two weeks leave and the date on which they would like the paternity leave to start. In addition, employees will be required to provide their employers with a completed self-certificate as evidence of their entitlement to SPP. Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) Under the new arrangements employers will pay SPP at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) above and will be paid for the duration of the absence i.e. one or two consecutive weeks.

How does my paternity leave affect my contractual benefits?
During paternity leave all contractual benefits (other than salary) will remain intact during the period of leave and on return from leave employees will, of course, be entitled to return to their same job. A new right is available for employees to take paid leave when a child is newly placed with them for adoption on or after 6th April 2003.

Adoption Leave
A new right is available for employees to take paid leave when a child is newly placed with them for adoption on or after 6th April 2003.Adoption leave and pay will be available to individuals who adopt or one member of a couple who adopt jointly (the couple themselves can choose who takes the adoption leave).

Who is eligible to apply?
In order to take advantage of this right, the individual must have been employed by their current employer continuously for at least 26 weeks leading up to the week in which they are notified of being newly matched with a child for adoption.

What will I be eligible for?
Under the new arrangements eligible employees will now be entitled to 26 ordinary adoption leave (normally paid) and a further 26 weeks additional adoption leave (normally unpaid). Eligible employees can choose to start their leave either from the date the child is placed with them or from a fixed date up to 14 days prior to the placement. Leave can start on any day of the week.

What happens if we adopt several children?
Only one period of leave is allowed irrespective of how many children are adopted as part of the same arrangement.

How should you notify your employer?
Employees should notify their employer in writing of their intention to take the adoption leave within 7days of being notified by their adoption agency that they have been matched with a child. They will also need to inform their employer of the date the child is expected to be placed with them and the date that they would like their adoption leave to commence. In addition, they will be required to provide their employer with a ‘matching certificate’ confirming the adoption.

Again, before making a request you may wish to check with your employer as they may have developed their own procedures. There are no other requirements for the employee regarding notification other than if the employee wants to return to work earlier than expected. In this case, employees must give the employer 28 days notice of the date they intend to return.

Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP)
Under the new arrangements, employers will pay SAP at the same the rate as Statutory Maternity Pay and the benefit will be paid for up to 26 weeks.

How does my Adoption Leave affect my contractual benefits?
During adoption leave all contractual benefits (other than salary) will remain intact. During the period of leave and on return from leave, employees will of course be entitled to return to their same job.

Conclusion
Once again the government has chosen legislation as a means of ‘encouraging’ employers to address the needs of parents at work. These new rights are intended to meet the needs of both employers and parents in trying to find appropriate ways to enable working parents balance the demands of their home and work life. Arriving at a workable solution may not always be easy but it can be made easier if we all bear in mind the spirit of the legislation and not just the letter of the law. But only time will tell if these new rights achieve the desired intention.