Family Policies

If you are planning to change jobs when you have small children or are thinking about starting a family, you need to consider special additional rights aimed at working parents.

Maternity Rights

If you are pregnant, you have a number of important rights, some of which will depend on how long you have worked for your current employer. Firstly, it is unlawful for your employer to dismiss you or single you out for redundancy for reasons connected with your pregnancy or maternity. You also have the right not to be treated unfairly on grounds of pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. If this does happen to you, you may be able to bring a claim of unlawful sex discrimination in an employment tribunal.

As long as you have notified your employer that you are pregnant you are also entitled to:

– reasonable time off with pay for antenatal care (this may include parenting or relaxation classes)

– 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave (as opposed to Additional Maternity Leave – see below)

– all your normal terms and conditions except wages or salary while on Ordinary Maternity Leave

– if you have been with your employer for one year or more, you are also entitled to Additional Maternity Leave of up to 26 weeks from when the baby is born

– suspension from work on full pay if there is an unavoidable health or safety risk to you as a new or expectant mother, and there is no suitable alternative work for you to do

If your employer fails to meet these obligations, you can complain to an employment tribunal within three months of the date of the alleged infringement of your rights. If the complaint relates to something in your contract, you have the right to go to a civil court.

With Ordinary Maternity Leave, you can normally start any time you want after the beginning of the 11th week before the week the baby is due. You must give at least three weeks’ notice unless it is not ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so. If the baby is born before the date the leave is due to start, it starts automatically on that date. Also, if you have a pregnancy-related illness during the six weeks before the week the baby is due, your maternity leave will start automatically at that point.

An employee must notify her employer of the pregnancy and date on which she intends to start her leave by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. The employer is obliged to respond and clarify her rights within four weeks of notification. However, the employee can adjust the start of her maternity leave with four weeks’ notice of the new intended start date. In the case of pregnancy-related illness, the six week limit is reduced to four weeks’ notice. Ordinary Maternity Leave currently ends after 26 weeks.

If you want to come back to work earlier, you have to give your employer 21 days’ notice of the date you intend to return. You are entitled to your old job back when you return, on the same terms and conditions as before. If a redundancy situation has arisen during your maternity leave, your employer must offer any suitable alternative work that is available at that point. And remember, any redundancy decisions you can show are related to your leave can be challenged as sex discrimination. If you decide not to return to work, you must give the employer the amount of notice required by your contract of employment.

During Ordinary Maternity Leave you are entitled to all your usual terms and conditions of employment except for pay. This means you can receive benefits arising from your contract of employment that you would have received had you continued to work, such as:

– pension contributions from your employer

– use of your company car or mobile phone

– accrued holiday entitlement

– reimbursement of professional fees

– participation in share option schemes

– private health insurance

– health club membership

Ordinary Maternity Leave also counts as continuous employment for the purposes of assessing seniority, pay rises, pensions and other personal benefits based on length of service, as well as for the purpose of qualifying for statutory employment rights.

Additional Maternity Leave – for women with 6 months or more service with their current employer, additional unpaid maternity leave takes over at the end of Ordinary Maternity Leave and lasts for 29 weeks from the birth of the baby. This means a woman who starts her ordinary maternity leave 11 weeks before the birth could be absent for a total of 40 weeks. If you are planning to take additional leave you should inform your employer of the date of your baby’s birth so you can plan for your return 29 weeks after this. Your employer can write to you 21 days before the end of your ordinary leave and ask you to confirm your child’s date of birth and whether you intend to return to work. You must reply within 21 days of receiving the letter.

Additional Maternity Leave does not follow the same terms and conditions as Ordinary Maternity Leave. In the absence of any specific agreement with your employer, the terms and conditions that apply are:

– the obligation of trust, confidence and good faith between you and your employer

– contractual periods of notice

– contractual rights of redundancy pay if you are made redundant

– contractual terms and conditions relating to disciplinary and grievance procedures

Additional leave does not count as continuous service for the assessment of benefits as ordinary leave does, although the period of employment before additional leave is ‘joined up’ with that when you return to work as if it were continuous. Additional leave is counted as continuation of employment for the purpose of qualifying for statutory employment rights.

You are entitled to your old job back after a period of Additional Maternity Leave unless you work for an employer with five or fewer employees. In this case there would be no obligation to take you back if this would not be reasonably practicable (in a dispute this would be for an employment tribunal to decide). If a redundancy situation has arisen during the additional leave period, or there is some other genuine reason why your job is no longer available, you must be offered any suitable alternative work that is available on the date you wish to return.

Suspension from work on full pay – Employers have a duty to assess the risks in the workplace to new and expectant mothers and their babies. Where a risk cannot be removed or controlled, your employer must offer you any suitable work that is available under no less favourable terms and conditions. If no such work is available, your employer must suspend you on full pay for as long as necessary to protect your health and safety.


Paternity rights

In order to help men combine jobs with starting a family, working fathers receive two weeks’ paid paternity leave on the birth of their child. The leave is paid at the same flat rate as Statutory Maternity Leave, currently around £60 per week. To qualify, you must have been in a job for 26 weeks, and give notification of the intention to take the leave by the 15th week before the expected week of the child’s birth. Currently, fathers can take unpaid leave within the parental leave package, which allows fathers the right to take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid leave during the first five years of their child’s life.


Parental leave

Parental leave allows working fathers and mothers (or people with legal responsibility for children) to take 13 weeks leave from work for each child, before his or her fifth birthday. The legislation is aimed at giving parents the time to care for young children, or make arrangements for their welfare. The time can also be used simply to spend quality time with your infant.

Any parent who has completed one year with their employer is entitled to parental leave. It is available for each child born or adopted on or after 15 December 1999. There is no Statutory Right to pay during parental leave. Each parent is entitled to 13 weeks unpaid leave, per child, unless there is such an agreement with your employer.

Ideally employees and employers should make their own agreements about taking time off. This may be in the form of an individual agreement with your employer, or a structure may well exist in your organisation. The time can be taken in one block or split into instalments of any mutually agreeable size until 13 weeks has been used up. If there is no agreement with your employer there is a ‘fallback scheme’ of rules which will need to be followed. Details can be found on

When returning from parental leave you are entitled to the same job as before the absence. However if the leave was for four weeks or more and it is not reasonably practicable for you to have the same job on your return, you must be provided with a similar job with the same or better status, terms and conditions.

You cannot transfer Parental Leave over from employer to employer. You must again work for a year before your entitlement begins. However, sometimes it may be possible to negotiate with a new employer for you to carry over unspent leave, at the employer’s discretion. You cannot transfer allowance between parents; it is an individual right.

You may be able to use Parental Leave for emergencies, e.g. if your child is ill. However, it depends on the agreement you have with your employer. Under the fallback scheme a period of notice is required, so in that instance it cannot be used for emergencies.

All employees also have the right to take a reasonable period off work to deal with an emergency problem involving a dependent such as a child, partner or parent. There is no set time allowed for this, but the norm would be one or two days of unpaid leave. See

For further information, see Department of Trade and Industry/ Working Parents.