8.1 Pregnancy and maternity
Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments, including if wished relaxation and parenting classes. The employee must show her employer on request the appointment card for such times. An employer must not treat a pregnant employee less favourably on the grounds that she has asserted her statutory right to ante-natal care. The employee is also protected from dismissal or selection for redundancy on grounds related to pregnancy or childbirth.
Regardless of her length of service, any employee may take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave (and must take the first two weeks after the birth, or four if she works in a factory).
The first 26 weeks are known as ordinary maternity leave, or OML. Other than in relation to pay, the employment contract continues during OML, so the employee continues to benefit from her rights and must observe her obligations under the contract (except where they are not compatible with being on maternity leave). At the end of OML, if the employee wishes to return to her existing role, she has the right to do so, and if it is no longer available as a result of a redundancy exercise, she has the right to be preferred to other candidates for suitable alternatives. The employee may however prefer immediately to take additional maternity leave (AML) and remain off for up to 26 further weeks. Once again, the contract continues other than in relation to pay and the employee is still entitled to return to her existing role at the end.
The employee is not paid throughout maternity leave. Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is payable for up to 39 weeks, at the rate in force at the time, although as usual it is open to the employer to be more generous either in duration or amount of payments, and indeed to agree a longer period of maternity leave.
While the employee is on maternity leave, she may spend up to ten days working with her employer, e.g. coming in to the office for training days, without losing her right to be on maternity leave or, where appropriate, receive maternity pay. These days are known as Keeping In Touch (KIT) days.