This Q&A provided by SmallBusiness.co.uk and Peter-Jon Chalmers, director of Empire HR, provides information and advice in relation to these changes:
Q: What maternity leave will my employees be entitled to under the Work and Families Act 2006?
A: All women now have the right to take 12 months maternity leave. This is made up of six months ordinary maternity leave and six months additional maternity leave.
Q: One of my employees is in the process of adopting a child. Can you tell me what rights she will have under the new rules?
A: Your employee will be entitled to take adoption leave. As with maternity leave, this has now been extended to up to 12 months. Statutory Adoption Pay is now payable for up to 39 weeks, provided your employee meets the qualifying criteria.
Q: I recently heard someone use the phrase ‘compulsory maternity leave’. Does this mean that if any of my female employees are pregnant, they have to take the full ordinary maternity leave period?
A: Compulsory maternity leave refers to the two-week period following the birth of a baby, during which employers must not allow an employee to return to work. If the employee works in a factory the compulsory period is four weeks. Failure to comply can result in a fine.
Q: One of my employees gave birth at the end of March 2007. Does she qualify for 12 months maternity leave and also for the extended period of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?
A: Your employee will not benefit from the enhanced maternity pay provisions, as these are only applicable to those mothers giving birth on or after 1 April 2007. However, under the old maternity provisions your employee may still qualify for 12 months leave, provided she had 26 weeks service by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.
Q: I remember reading that women on maternity leave are entitled to all their usual terms and conditions of employment. Can you clarify whether this includes bonus payments?
A: During Ordinary Maternity Leave, an employee has a statutory right to continue to benefit from the terms and conditions of employment that would have applied to her had she been at work instead of on leave, except for the terms providing for her wages or salary. Whether a bonus is payable to an employee on maternity leave depends on the type of bonus and the terms of the particular bonus scheme.
Q: Am I right in thinking that under the Work and Families Act the period for which SMP is paid has been extended?
A: SMP is now payable for 39 weeks. This is an increase of 13 weeks. SMP is paid at 90 per cent of the woman’s normal weekly earnings for the first six weeks of maternity leave. The remaining 33 weeks are payable at the lesser of £112.75 per week or 90 per cent of the woman’s normal weekly earnings. These figures apply for the 2007 – 2008 tax year.
Q: Can you explain what is meant by ‘keeping in touch’ days in relation to maternity leave?
A: Employees are now allowed to work for up to ten days at any time during their maternity leave (outwith the compulsory maternity leave period). Doing so does not signify the end of their maternity leave nor does it affect their SMP entitlement. Both parties must agree to these arrangements and an employee is not obliged to work any ‘keeping in touch’ days, nor is an employer obliged to offer any such days.
For more information contact Empire HR on 01224 701383 or at www.empirehr.com.