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Maternity leave – knowing your rights

Pregnancy in the workplace and maternity leave can be a difficult thing to get right, especially in our industry where so much of the work can be manual. But it is important that both the employer and employee do it get it right. When you are pregnant, you have four main legal rights that an employer must abide by:

  • Paid time off for antenatal care

This must be at your normal rate of pay and can include antenatal and parenting classes if they have been recommended by a doctor or midwife.

  • Maternity leave

Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks made up of Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks) and Additional Maternity Leave (the last 26 weeks). It is also worth noting you do not have to take 52 weeks, but you must take 2 weeks after your baby is born (4 weeks if you work in a factory). You may also be entitled to shared paternal leave – click here to find out more.

  • Maternity pay or maternity allowance

Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 29 weeks. You will get 90% of your weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks and then £148.68 or 90% or your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

  • Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal

Employers cannot change a pregnant employee’s contract terms and conditions without agreement. It is also against the law to discriminate against anyone as a result of pregnancy.

Health and safety in the workplace whilst pregnant are of vital importance. An employee must tell their employer that they are pregnant 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due, and the employee must assess the risks. In our industry, a lot of risks must be considered, such as heavy lifting, working long hours and standing for long periods of time. In these cases, where possible, an employer must offer the employee different work or changes in hours. If this is not possible, the employer should suspend the employee on full pay.

One female garden designer (who wished to stay anonymous) agreed to share her varied experiences of working whilst pregnant. She said: “I was self-employed during my first pregnancy, so it was up to me to look after myself. I was managing the planting of a 3-acre garden for another designer, so lots of lifting and bending involved.

“I was, however, lucky enough to be part of a fantastic team. As soon as I communicated my pregnancy, everyone on site, the designer, the contractor and the planting team, kept an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t overdoing things (I am a stubborn lady!).

“My second pregnancy was a different pair of hands. Despite being employed by a well-known designer, woman and mum, there wasn’t any procedure put in place. Actually, I had to inform my boss of my own rights in more than one occasion. Both the pregnancy and the return to work were such a struggle that I left!”

This employee’s experience emphasises why, as an employer, it is of such great importance to research workers’ rights whilst they are pregnant and make sure you have the correct procedures in place.

For more information on maternity rights, click here.

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