Know Your Rights When Pregnant
Know Your Rights When Pregnant And On Maternity Leave – Becoming pregnant as a working mother or taking maternity leave is now a big decision to make with many instances of issues hitting our headlines recently.
The way a pregnant woman/new mother is treated by her employer and colleagues can differ enormously from organisation to organisation. I am a mum of two young boys, just 22 months apart, and I am also a Solicitor, currently working part-time due to childcare commitments. During both of my pregnancies and maternity leave, I was extremely lucky to work for a thoroughly supportive employer who on my return agreed to my flexible working request.
Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone has the same positive experience as me. Whilst I had dealt with many discrimination cases prior to becoming pregnant myself, I couldn’t believe the number of stories I heard at Mother & Baby groups during my maternity leave. Mothers would tell me how they had been denied a bonus whilst they were pregnant, that they had been passed over for promotion, or that their employer had told them they had done away with their job whilst they’d been off work.
This made me genuinely upset to see mothers treated like this at a time when their employment rights were enhanced and they were quite heavily protected. I understood that it wasn’t easy for these mums to state their case effectively at this time when they had a child to prioritise, so I often found myself stepping out of my ‘mummy’ shoes and into full-on solicitor mode to give these mums the advice necessary to assist them through the difficult time they were having.
On my return to work I decided to concentrate my efforts on pregnancy/maternity issues and I 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, and also to provide practical advice to employers to ensure that they support and deal correctly with pregnant employees or those on maternity leave.
Your Rights – Points to Note
Your rights start from the point at which you advise your employer you are pregnant. From this stage you are able to take reasonable paid time off for ante-natal appointments, as is your partner to accompany you.
Whilst on maternity leave, you are entitled to leave of up to a year, with Statutory Maternity Pay for 39 weeks. Your contractual rights should continue during maternity leave, including accrual of holidays and pension contributions. On return, you have the right to return to the same job if you have taken up to 26 weeks’ leave and right to return to a similar position if over 26 weeks. You are also afforded greater protection if a redundancy situation occurs whilst you are on leave.
You are of course afforded protection from dismissal and detriment due to your pregnancy/maternity leave. 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. You may be able to recover any loss of earnings and compensation for injury to feelings if you are successful.
Advice for women in this situation?
I feel that the best advice I can give is to communicate. A lot of the cases I deal with are due to the individual feeling they have been pushed out, excluded, replaced or forgotten about, when it could have been handled so differently if the parties had just sat down and spoken to each other to iron out any misunderstandings, potential confusion points and worries on the mind.
The main message is that being pregnant or taking maternity leave should not mean that you are treated differently or badly by your employer. You have rights 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. Worrying 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). Advice should be taken at the earliest opportunity as time limits for bringing claims are extremely short.