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EDITIONS
Working Lunch Monday, 23 September, 2002, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Family friendly changes
Pregnant woman at work
Juggling work and home can be a challenge
If you're pregnant and due to give birth on or after 6 April 2003 then there are several changes - for the better - that come into force.

And it doesn't matter if your baby is early, you will get these increased benefits.

Bad luck though if your baby is due before 6 April and born on or after - these changes will not apply to you.

But for those of you who do qualify, here's everything you ever wanted to know about your parenting rights - and were afraid to ask!

Year off

Working mothers will be allowed to take up to a year off work to look after their families, and fathers and adoptive parents will also have their parenting rights recognised.

Over 350,000 mothers and 450,000 fathers are set to benefit from the measures.

It's all part of the Employment Act 2002 which got Royal Assent in July.

The government has high hopes that it will have a real impact on people's lives benefiting business, parents and, above all, children.

Many maternity-related rights and obligations will remain unchanged, including the right to time off for antenatal care, the two- week period of compulsory maternity leave after the birth, and the right to protection from detrimental treatment on grounds of maternity.

At the heart of this is the government's work-life balance campaign.

Working mothers

A basic entitlement to six months paid and a further six months unpaid maternity leave.

Ordinary maternity leave (OML) Ordinary maternity leave will last for 26 weeks for all employees, regardless of length of service or hours worked. This is normally paid maternity leave (change from 18 weeks).

Additional maternity leave (AML) For women with 26 weeks service by the 15th week before the baby is due (the same condition as for Statutory Maternity Pay), they will be eligible for 26 weeks from the end of OML. Maximum leave entitlement will be 52 weeks.

At the moment, for women with one year and 11 weeks service by the week their baby is due, AML starts at the end of OML and ends up to 29 weeks from the Sunday before the baby is actually born.

So in essence a reduction in one year of your eligibility to get AML.

AML is usually unpaid although a woman may have contractual rights to be paid.

Statutory Maternity pay (SMP) SMP will last for 26 weeks and there will be an increase in the standard rate of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance from £75 to £100 (or 90% of the woman's average weekly earnings if this is less than £100 a week).

That's an increase of more than 60%. You will be paid at the rate of 90% of average earnings for the first 6 weeks - that's unchanged. At the moment SMP lasts for 18 weeks.

Maternity Allowance (MA) This is a benefit for those who are employed or self employed earning £30 a week or more.

MA is from your local Jobcentre Plus/Social Security office and worth £100 a week for 26 weeks (or 90% of earnings for 26 weeks if this is less than £100 a week).

More than 300,000 mothers each year will benefit from the increases in maternity pay to £100 per week and increase to the period of maternity pay to 26 weeks.

What happens if the baby is due BEFORE 6 April but your maternity pay continues AFTER 6 April 2003?

Unfortunately, because your baby is due before 6 April you cannot get the new rights so you will get 18 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave with Statutory Maternity Pay paid for 18 weeks (if you qualify).

But your SMP will be paid at 90% of your average earnings for the first 6 weeks and then it will be paid at the flat rate of £75 per week for any week before 6 April and at the flat rate of £100 per week for any week after 6 April 2003.

Notice of maternity leave

Currently: Must be given 21 days before the start of maternity leave.

Change: Must be given in the "notification week" - the 15th week before the week the baby is due. Any changes must be with four weeks' notice. The employer must respond with prescribed information.

You will need to tell your employer:

  • that you are pregnant
  • the week your baby is expected to be born
  • when you want your maternity leave to start

You'll be able to change your mind about when you want to start your leave providing you tell your employer at least 28 days in advance (unless this is not reasonably practicable).

There will be a new requirement on employers to respond to a woman's notification of her leave plans within 28 days.

An employer will need to write to his employee, setting out the date on which he expects her to return to work if she takes her full entitlement to maternity leave.

There will be no change to how early a woman is able to start her maternity leave - the earliest date will continue to be the beginning of the 11th week before her baby is due.

Returning from Maternity Leave

There will no longer be provision for an employer to write to a woman before the end of her ordinary maternity leave period to ask the date on which her child was born and whether she intends to return after her additional maternity leave period.

This means that a woman who intends to return to work at the end of her full maternity leave entitlement will not be required to give any further notification to her employer.

Notice of early return from maternity leave is currently 21 days but will become 28 days.

Sickness

When a woman who is absent from work for a pregnancy-related illness is required to start her maternity leave has also changed.

The new rule states that the maternity leave begins in the last four weeks of pregnancy. At the moment it's in the last six weeks.

Working fathers

Under the new guidelines there will be two weeks paid paternity leave for working fathers.

Fathers have had a right to take unpaid parental leave since 1999 but this new paid leave will be in addition to those 13 weeks of Parental Leave.

It is proposed that the leave may be taken in blocks of one or two weeks and must be taken within 56 days of the birth or placing of a child for adoption.

This Statutory Paternity Pay will be financed by the state and will be administered in the same way as maternity pay.

The rate proposed for 2003 is the lesser of £100 or 90% of the employee's average weekly earnings.

Employees will be required to have completed 26 weeks of continuous service by the 15th week before the child is expected to be born or by the week in which an approved adoption agency matches an adopter with a child.

People who are adopting

For those who are adopting the new rules will mean:

  • six months paid and a further six months unpaid leave for working adoptive parents
  • Simpler rules governing maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay
  • Paternity and adoption pay at the same rate as maternity pay

Flexible working

From April 2003, for the first time, mothers and fathers of children under six and parents of disabled children under 18 will also have the right to apply to work flexibly.

Employers will have to give serious consideration to these requests.

Employers will be able to refuse requests where they have a clear business reason.

The government reckons this will benefit both employers and employees.

Working flexibly means a parent can:
vary their working hours
vary the times they work
enable them to work at homechange such other terms as the regulations allow

It's obvious how this could benefit the workers but the government also feels that employers are more likely to be able retain skilled staff and reduce recruitment costs.

It's also hoped that increased flexibility will reduce absenteeism and help businesses to be more reactive to changing market conditions.

Some of the small print is still up for discussion and interested parties have until 10 October to make comments about the draft regulations.

Who's eligible?

Well apart from the obvious of being an employee and having a child that fits the criteria there are other factors that have to be met.

  • You have to be responsible for the child as a parent so no to aunts, uncles and grandparents unless they have responsibility as a parent.
  • Same-sex couples are eligible.
  • You have to be making the application so that you can look after the child.
  • You must have worked for your employer for 26 weeks continuously when you make the application.
  • You can't be an agency worker.
  • You can't be a member of the armed forces.
  • You can't have made an application to work flexibly during the last 12 months under this right

How will this flexible working work?

The onus will be on the parent, who will have to set out the pattern they wish to adopt and envisage the effect it will have on the employer, including how it could be accommodated.

The employer will have to arrange to meet the parent to discuss it within 28 days of receiving the request.

At this meeting both side will have to spell out any issues that this might raise and discuss any alternative work pattern that might be needed.

The employer will have to let the parent know of the decision in writing within 14 days.

If a change to a working pattern is agreed then best practice suggests it will take about eight weeks to implement.

If it's rejected then the employer has to state the specific business reason, and it has to be one of the ones stated in the legislation, and say why it applies in this particular case.

If the employer fails to meet these regulations then they risk being taken to a tribunal.

Parents have the right to appeal against the decision within 14 days of receiving the notification

Employees who make an application for flexible working are protected from detriment or dismissal because they have made an application under this provision.

The specific business reasons for refusal are stated as:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • detrimental impact on quality
  • detrimental impact on performance
  • insufficiency of work during period employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes

Good for business

Employers will benefit, as new parents with their valuable skills and knowledge will be encouraged to stay in work rather than leave to care full-time for their new families.

Increased notification periods for a woman's start and early return date from maternity leave.

Employers will be able to submit a claim to recover Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay from the Inland Revenue in advance if the amounts due to be paid exceed the tax, national insurance and other allowable payments due to the Inland Revenue.

Existing arrangements for employers to recover maternity, paternity and adoption payments will continue.

Employers are able to claim back 92% of the payments they make, with those eligible for small employers' relief able to claim back 100% plus an additional amount in compensation for the employer's portion of National Insurance contributions paid on SMP.

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