What was most important for maternity in 2006 and what’s the plan for 2007? Read our exclusive guide by Sarah Fletcher.
Ah babies. Small, squidgy and smelling faintly of soap, who couldn’t love them? Employers, apparently. Earlier this year HR Zone examined the attitude of HR professionals to maternity provisions and the results were bleak – resentment and annoyance at current legislation mirrored findings by the CBI that businesses were dissatisfied with maternity laws.
Research from law firm Browne Jacobson reported that 82 percent of UK businesses oppose the proposed extension of paid maternity leave and three quarters of company directors (75 percent) believe that the proposed extension of paid maternity leave will discourage employers from hiring women “of child-bearing age” – around 10 million employees, or one third of the UK’s workforce.
Despite these gloomy figures, babies are big business. The growing popularity of childcare vouchers as an employee benefit shows that employers are increasingly aware that pleasing their pregnant staff is a smart business move. In July HR Zone examined whether, in business terms, childcare vouchers are worth the effort and the resoundingly positive response towards this benefit testifies to the rewards available to an organisation that takes care of its maternity provisions.
Businesses were increasingly urged to focus on working parents when devising a benefits strategy. Flexible working was topical and proved popular, as we reported in Remote working: Does it make business sense? and Part-time working: What’s the business benefit? We also offered advice on a less covered topic: Should you allow staff to breastfeed at work?
What happened in 2006?
HR consultant Sandra Beale explained the changes made by the introduction of the Work and Families Act 2006 on 1 October 2006. In summary, the major changes to legislation this year meant that from 1 April 2006, the rates of Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay (SMP, SPP and SAP) were increased from £106 to £108.85, but a more significant change to maternity legislation was introduced in October.
From 1 October 2006, all pregnant employees qualified for 12 months’ maternity leave, regardless of their length of service. In addition, the notice obligations on the employee have changed so that if a woman wishes to change her return to work date after a period of Additional Maternity Leave (AML), she must give eight weeks’ notice (rather than the current 28 days).
Maternity legislation in 2007
Under current legislation, a woman must give at least 28 days’ notice if she wishes to return at an earlier date than the day after her maternity leave ends. This notice period will extend to eight weeks’ notice under the forthcoming laws. The same extension will apply to staff wanting to return to work early from adoption leave. This will affect those employees with an expected week of childbirth or adoption date starting on or after 1 April 2007. Statutory maternity pay (SMP), maternity allowance and statutory adoption pay (SAP) will be extended from 26 weeks to 39 weeks.
The small employer’s exemption will be removed so that employers with five or less employees are no longer exempt from a finding of automatic unfair dismissal where they do not allow an employee returning from additional maternity leave (AML) or additional adoption leave (AAL) to return to a similar job or the same job.
For a small employer, this means extra potential liability of up to £58,400 in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal claims, together with a risk of indirect discrimination claims (which carry unlimited liability) if things have gone badly wrong.
The qualifying period for AML is being removed. Currently, all pregnant employees are entitled to months’ ordinary maternity leave (OML) but only employees with 26 weeks’ service at the appropriate time qualify for a further six months’ AML.
- Statutory maternity and adoption paid leave will be extended from six to nine months for staff where the expected week of childbirth is on or after 1 April 2007.
- Qualifying criteria for Additional Maternity Leave (AML) will be removed so that all mothers will be able to take up to one year off work.
- Mothers must give their employer eight weeks’ notice if they change their leave date (it currently stands at 28 days).
- Employers will have a right to make reasonable contact with their employee during maternity leave.
- Employees will be given the option to go into work during maternity leave to undertake training and keep track of significant developments without losing the right to maternity pay.
- The Maternity Pay Period can start on any day to help to align the leave with the pay period.
- Option for Statutory Maternity Pay to be paid on a daily rather than a weekly basis.