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What are my rights if I'm having a baby?

The UK allows parents a legal right to take time off in order to have or to adopt children, and to bring those children up. This was not always the case, and indeed the UK lagged behind much of Europe in the 1980s, with no law allowing parents time off to have children.

The legal situation in the UK was clarified in the late 1990s, when the Labour Government introduced the Employment Relations Act 1999 allowing all parents up to three months’ unpaid parental leave. The same Act allowed mothers 18 weeks’ paid leave to have children.

In 2001 the Government extended paid statutory leave to fathers, and in 2010 fathers were given the right to take up to six months off work, to allow the mother to return to work early if they chose to do so.

What are my rights to time off work as a father?

In the UK parents have a right to both paid and unpaid maternity and paternity leave. If you are a working father, then you can take one or two weeks off when you have a child. There are various qualifications to this right to paternity leave:

  • You must have been employed for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the expected delivery date
  • You must be the biological father, or be married or the partner of the mother (including same sex couples)
  • You must have some responsibility for the upbringing of the child

If you are adopting a child the rules are similar, except you must be employed for 26 weeks before the date of adoption, and not already be taking adoption leave.

In all circumstances you must give your employer a minimum of 15 weeks’ notice, or as much as is possible in your circumstances.

You can take your paternity leave any time once the baby has been born, or is adopted. You cannot take the leave beforehand. You can delay the paternity leave, but in any event must take your leave within 56 days of the birth or adoption date.

What are my rights to time off work as a mother?

Women have considerably more maternity rights than men, to reflect the time during pregnancy and the stress of labour. This also reflects the maternal-child bond, and so applies for adoption as well as childbirth.

Women have the right to take up to one full year (52 weeks) maternity leave. The rate of pay for this year off varies, but the law says a minimum must be paid at a rate included in Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

Statutory Maternity Pay entitles working mothers to receive six weeks at 90% of your normal working pay. The mother is then entitled to receive 33 weeks at the minimum SMP rate, currently £138.18 per week.

The total a mother can be paid for under SMP rules is 39 weeks. The final 13 weeks of the year is unpaid leave.

Statutory maternity pay is not, however, available to all mothers. To qualify you must have worked for at least 26 weeks before the 15th week before the baby is due, and your average weekly earnings are above the lower earnings limit for national insurance (for 2014-15 this rate is £111 per week).

Am I entitled to other rights as a mother?

Mothers are also entitled to other employment rights when they have or adopt a child. These include:

  • The right to time off for antenatal care
  • The right to work in a safe environment
  • The right to claim for unfair dismissal if they are dismissed for being pregnant
  • The right to return to work after having or adopting a child

What if my employment contract offers different rights?

The rights stated here are the minimum rights given to mothers and fathers by law. Your employment contract can offer you additional rights, and many employers do this, for example by offering maternity and paternity leave at full pay. However, this is not obligatory by law and is at the discretion of your employer.

Your employment contract cannot offer you fewer rights than these statutory minimums, and if your employer attempts to avoid observing these statutory minimums then you should seek legal advice. 

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