14 JANUARY 2015

Maternity Action is the UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children – from conception through to the child’s early years. Project Officer, Richard Dunstan, launches their new campaign on maternity rights.

Too many people don’t know their rights at work. And, pregnancy and childbirth not being everyday events, awareness and understanding of the associated workplace rights and benefits is even poorer. Worse still, there are limited sources of guidance for pregnant women and new parents.

Maternity Action produces over 50 information sheets on maternity rights at work, maternity benefits, and breastfeeding rights, which are downloaded more than 10,000 times every month. And our telephone advice line logs some 2,500 calls every year. But that is 20 times more calls than we are able to answer with current resources. Clearly, the demand for information and advice greatly exceeds the supply.

Over the next few weeks, therefore, we are going to be using social media to highlight five key maternity-related rights that are especially overlooked or poorly understood, not least by employers. Accessing one or more of these rights can make an enormous difference to the experience of women and their families, but they may not be among the first rights that spring to mind.

Not everyone knows, for example, that all pregnant employees – including part-timers – are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care. They cannot be asked to make up the hours, and cannot be asked to use annual leave or flexi-time. And ‘antenatal care’ isn’t just medical appointments such as scans – it can also include antenatal or parenting classes if recommended by a doctor or midwife. What’s more, the father or pregnant woman’s partner also has a right to unpaid time off work to go to two antenatal appointments.

Calls to our advice line also suggest that it is not widely known that it is against the law to make a woman redundant simply because of her pregnancy. In fact, being selected for redundancybecause you are pregnant or have taken maternity leave is unlawful discrimination.

Few women – and even fewer employers – seem to know that you do not have to repay any Statutory Maternity Pay, even if you resign during your maternity leave. This includes both the higher rate for the six weeks after the birth, and the flat rate for up to 33 weeks. And employers claim the SMP back from the Government, so they are not left out of pocket.

Similarly, the fact that women from abroad can claim SMP or Maternity Allowance (subject to meeting the qualifying conditions) is not well-known, leading to many such women assuming – or being wrongly told – that they have no entitlement. It does not matter if you have ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ stamped in your passport, as SMP and MA are not ‘public funds’.

And last – but by no means least – we never fail to be surprised how few women know that breastfeeding in the workplace is protected by law. It’s true that there is no explicit legal right to breastfeeding breaks and facilities upon return to work – we’d very much like to see one introduced! However, employers must meet their obligations to a breastfeeding employee under health and safety, flexible working, and anti-discrimination law. And, not only is it simple and inexpensive for employers to do so, but it brings real business benefits such as increased productivity and staff loyalty.

So, know your rights, get your rights!

richard dunstan, project manager at maternity actionABOUT AUTHOR 

Richard is Project Officer at Maternity Action. Follow him @Wonkypolicywonk