The number of applications to Employment Tribunals for unfair dismissal due to pregnancy related reasons in 2003-2004 was 1,170 and in 2004-2005 it was 1,345. Partly in response to this increasing trend the Government has announced a raft of legislative changes, which in many people’s eyes will further complicate maternity rights.
A number of changes affecting maternity pay will be introduced from October 1 this year. We recommend all business owners make sure that they are familiar with these changes so that they comply with the legislation. Of particular note:
- Statutory Maternity Pay will be increased from six to nine months for employees with an expected week of childbirth on or after 6 April 2007. The extension to nine months is a stepping-stone to the Government’s eventual goal of a full year by the end of 2009.
- The length of service required for mothers to receive additional maternity leave will be removed. This means that an employee who currently qualifies for ordinary maternity leave will now also qualify for additional maternity leave.
- An employer will be able to contact an employee whilst she is on maternity leave, although this contact must be “reasonable”.
- Employees will have to give eight weeks notice if intending to return to work before the end of their maternity leave period, currently the notice is 28 days. The Government is also proposing to allow fathers to take three months’ paid leave if their partner returns to work after six months.
What will the impact be?
At first glance these changes may seem to have a negative impact on the operation of businesses. They may lead to increased costs in recruitment of temporary staff or overtime for existing staff.
The changes to the law will hopefully improve an employee’s ability to balance their home and working lives. In the long-term this could help in retaining staff, which will save time and money on recruitment and training.
The Department of Trade and Industry and Department for Work and Pensions have stated that the current maternity legislation, alongside other family-friendly initiatives, has improved retention rates, with less women now changing employer after they return to work from maternity leave. These changes are designed to improve this situation further.
Employers will need to start considering the changes to the legislation and make sure that they update their maternity policy.
They should also ensure that where appropriate they take advantage of the reasonable contact initiative as this will help to keep staff updated of future projects or changes to working practice, which will allow an employee returning from maternity leave to settle back into their role much easier.
Chris Syder, Head of Employment (London) for Clarkslegal LLP can be contacted at [email protected]