Small firms fail to adapt to maternity law changes

A lack of awareness of recent changes to the laws governing maternity leave is placing many small firms at risk of costly legal disputes, or so claims Associa Employment Service.


A lack of awareness of recent changes to the laws governing maternity leave is placing many small firms at risk of costly legal disputes, or so claims Associa Employment Service.

A lack of awareness of recent changes to the laws governing maternity leave is placing many small firms at risk of costly legal disputes, or so claims Associa Employment Service.

To Mark Thompson, legal team leader at Associa – a branch of the national farmers union – small businesses must be aware of April’s changes or “find themselves unknowingly denying an employee her rights and paying for it in a tribunal”.

“This can be financially damaging to companies and doubly infuriating as more often than not, maternity cases that send companies bankrupt could have been so easily avoided with a little understanding,” Thompson continues.

Latest figures from the Government’s employment tribunal office demonstrate the extent of the problem. As of 6 August, some 632 cases had been brought on the grounds of pregnancy-related grievances, a figure which excludes the hundreds of cases listed under the more general banner of sex discrimination.

Chief among the recent changes is a female worker’s entitlement to 26 weeks “ordinary”, or paid, maternity leave providing they have been with the company for a certain amount of time. The law also now allows for a further optional 26 weeks “additional” leave, which is usually unpaid.

Under previous legislation pregnant workers were entitled to only 18 weeks ordinary leave and 11 weeks additional leave.

Other important issues to remember are an employee’s right to begin maternity leave 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth and to begin maternity leave automatically should she be absent from work with a pregnancy related-illness four weeks before her due date.

A full rundown on the current laws can be found on the DTI’s Employment Relations website.

7/8/03

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