Knowing your Maternity Rights and making sure that you get a good deal during your pregnancy and your return to work should be high priority to put your mind at rest. Using this handy guide from Smart Cells ensured I knew when and what was expected of myself and my employer.
From the moment you get the positive test or whilst your trying for a baby you should have a read of your employer maternity policy since it comes into play right from the word go when needing time off for midwife appointments and ultrasound scans. It’s totally up to you when you choose to tell your employer that you’re pregnant, and legally you aren’t required to do so until 15 weeks before your due date, but I would say that it also depends on the kind of job that you do as you may need to have reduced duties or extra support in place.
We did the usual announcement once we’d had the all clear from our twelve week scan. We told family and friends and then let work know which was such a relief as I felt totally rotten, and how they didn’t guess I will never know.
Once you have informed your employer there are four main legal rights:
- Paid time off for antenatal care
- Maternity leave
- Maternity pay or maternity allowance
- Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal
Once you’ve informed your employer they are legally obliged to perform a risk assessment which includes heavy lifting or carrying, sitting or standing for long periods of time, exposure to toxic substances and working long hours.
All I had to do in terms of getting time off for my midwife appointments and ultrasound scans was fill in a form with the dates and let my team know when I wasn’t going to be around so I never endeavoured any issues, even in the later stages where I was having physio and repeated blood tests.
I work in admin and although some days I can be sat at my desk for a long time, I have the option to be able to get up and walk around or change the task that I’m doing so I didn’t ever feel that this was a problem until the latter stages of my pregnancy when I had back ache. I had a risk assessment at the beginning when there weren’t any issues and then had this repeated around the 30 week mark when I was suffering with lower back pain. Whilst this was noted and I was given a back support which I didn’t find very comfortable, there wasn’t a lot that could be done other than getting up and down regularly. I was very sensible, making sure that I didn’t sit and suffer. I was also given pregnancy physio to help with this as well.
As with most things I get these confirmed by email so that I have a record to refer to if I ever need to should any queries arise. It may seem suspicious to do this, but it’s better in the long run if you have something to refer back to. Conversations taken place in a coffee room or corridor can sometimes be forgotten.
Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal
Thankfully this isn’t something that I’ve had to deal with but not everybody is so lucky. Employers should ensure that the work you do is safe for you to carry out, and if it’s not they should be offering alternative work or changes to your hours. In some cases where this isn’t possible they should suspend you on full pay.
If you feel that you aren’t being treated fairly you should talk this through with your employer in the first instance (don’t forget to follow it up with an ‘as discussed’ email) and if a satisfactory solution isn’t found then you can take this further via an employment tribunal.
Statutory Maternity Leave is anything from 2 to 52 weeks. It’s a personal choice how long you take and for most of us it’s dictated by our financial situation.
I opted to take the full 52 weeks with the final 13 weeks being unpaid, but was able to use some annual leave so not all of the 13 weeks is unpaid thankfully.
Of course this isn’t your only option as shared Paternity leave is now available so you can share this time between you dependent on your personal circumstances. This wasn’t an option for us as Chris was self-employed but if I’m being honest I’m not sure I would have wanted to give up the time off I’ve had with Freddie.
Around the 20 week mark you will be given a MAT B1 form signed by your midwife which you will need to give to your employer to enable to claim Statutory Maternity Pay.
It wasn’t until this point that formal discussions began regarding what maternity leave I was intending to take. I knew that I wanted the full 52 weeks, and also wanted to leave as late in the pregnancy as possible so that I could have as much time with my baby as possible. This isn’t set in stone as things do change. I struggled with my back towards the end but managed to last until 38 weeks. Every day I thought I was going to go into labour and kept having a recurring dream of going into labour in one of the meeting rooms where a senior work colleague had to help me give birth. Thankfully that didn’t happen!
During Maternity Leave your employment rights such as pay, holidays and returning to a job are protected, this includes being offered a suitable alternative vacancy if you are made redundant during maternity leave. You also have the right to ask for flexible work and not be forced to return to work early, with the right to take your full 52 weeks.
As I write this post I am due to return to work in a couple of weeks and currently haven’t finalised what job I’m returning to. I completed a Flexible working request to drop to two days a week which isn’t sustainable in my current role so negotiations are underway at the moment.
Returning to Work
You only need to inform your employer that you’re returning to work if it’s before 52 weeks. When returning to work after maternity leave of 26 weeks or less your employer must allow your return with the same pay and conditions as you were before. They can not stop you from returning to the same job because its considered dismissal and maternity discrimination. When returning after taking 26 weeks or more your employer must let you return to work and back into the same job role. They can only offer you a different job role with a strong reason. You cannot be dismissed after maternity leave if your job still exists, or it would still exist if you had not gone on leave, or if they offer you a new role if its something your not able to do or has worse pay and conditions.
A lot of mothers make the decision to wean babies from breastfeeding once they return to work, but your employer is required by law to provide you with a space to feed your baby or express milk. This should be discussed with your employer prior to returning to work. Provisions should be made for a comfortable place to feed/express and store the milk.
I will still be breastfeeding when I go back to work and have already discussed this with my Manager. I have a lockable room that I can use and the use of a fridge to store my milk. I’m anticipating needing to do express twice a day, once at 11am and again at 2pm. I’m not particularly looking forward to this but we’ll see how it goes.
So in a nutshell, I would keep the lines of communication open with your employer so that everybody knows where they stand. I recommend starting a folder either on your computer or a good old fashion paper folder for the following:
- Print off a copy of your employer Maternity Policy which should outline all that is required and at what stage so that you can tick off things as and when you’ve done them
- Make sure that you follow all conversations up with an email so that you have a record to refer to further down the line.
- Keep a record of all appointments and time taken off for all pregnancy related appointments
- Ask your HR department to confirm your maternity pay once submitted. They may be able to provide you with a breakdown of what pay to expect so that you can plan ahead
- Know your rights so that you have a satisfactory and smooth return to work
*This is a collaborative post