Employment rights in pregnancy and motherhood

Both Lives Matter | Blog | Employment rights in pregnancy and motherhood

Both Lives Matter believes that women need to be enabled in their pregnancy and motherhood..

In 2016 one in two women reported facing discrimination in the workplace because of their pregnancy and/or motherhood. As a society we need to address why this happens and recognise when and where it occurs. This is a big issue and one which we will continue to push into in the coming months. Information is empowering. So, do you know your rights?

The law gives significant rights and protections to pregnant women and working mothers, including the following:

Rights during Pregnancy

  • It is unlawful sex discrimination to make a recruitment decision based on an applicant being pregnant or being a woman of child-bearing age.
  • Employees must normally have one year’s service (in Northern Ireland, 2 years in GB) with their employer before accruing the right to not be unfairly dismissed. However, if the reason for dismissal is related to the woman’s pregnancy, then a claim can be made for sex discrimination, no matter how long the employee has been employed.
  • Pregnancy related sickness absence should not be counted towards a total sickness record and must not be used as a reason for disciplinary action or in assessing sickness absence as a criterion in a redundancy scoring exercise.
  • The right to work in an environment that does not endanger the health and safety of the woman or the unborn child – if the employer cannot remove risks, the employee has the right to be suspended on full pay
  • The right to paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments, in addition to annual leave, regardless of time worked for employer.
  • Free NHS dental care during pregnancy and up to a year after birth of baby
  • In England, women are entitled to free prescriptions during pregnancy and up to a year after birth. In Northern Ireland, all prescriptions are free anyway.


You are entitled to one year (52 weeks) Statutory Maternity Leave (SML)

  • You are entitled to Maternity Leave if the child is stillborn after 24 weeks’ gestation. You can give 8 weeks notice to return early if you wish.
  • Ordinary Maternity Leave – first 6 months/26 weeks.

If you return to work during this period, you have the right to return to exactly the same job.

  • Additional Maternity Leave – the second 6 months

You have the right to return to the same work unless it is no longer available (that is, if your position is made redundant while you are on maternity leave).  You must then be given a similar job with the same pay and conditions.

  • Holiday entitlement continues to accrue during maternity leave.


You are entitled to up to 39 weeks Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) while on leave

(if eligible – you’ve been working for employer for 26 weeks and have average earnings of £112 per week)

SML                                        SMP

1st 6 weeks                            90% of average weekly earnings

Next 33 weeks                      £139.58 or 90% of average weekly earnings

(whichever is less)

Next 13 weeks                      Unpaid

(if taken)

The earliest paid Maternity Leave can start is the 11th week before baby is due.

You are entitled to SMP if your child is still born after 24 weeks gestation.


Maternity Allowance

This government benefit is available for pregnant women who are not eligible for SMP (haven’t worked long enough for your employer or are paid less than £112 per week, or are self-employed).  It is a fortnightly or monthly payment:

  • Either £139.58 per week, or 90% av. weekly earnings, up to 39 weeks
  • Or £27 per week, for up to 14 weeks (if National Insurance contributions are not sufficient, or not enough weeks have been worked for the employer).

You can get Maternity Allowance if:

  • in the 66 weeks before the baby is due you were employed for at least 26 of those weeks, and were earning at least £30 per week for 13 of those weeks.
  • Or if you’re working and your average pay is less than £112 per week.

You cannot get MA if you’re unemployed, haven’t worked enough weeks, or earn less than £30 per week.

You can also get MA if you are self-employed and have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions.

If you can’t get MA, you may be entitled to Income Support (this has been replaced by Universal Credit).  This will be paid from 11 weeks before the due date, to 15 weeks after the birth if you:

  • have no or low income
  • are aged 16 or over
  • are not working, or work less than 16 hours per week
  • Have less than £16,000 in savings

A lone parent can get Income Support up until the child reaches five years.

The amount received will be at least £57.90 per week.


Shared Parental Leave and Pay

Up to 50 weeks’ parental leave and 37 weeks’ pay shared with your partner if you’re eligible.  You can get Statutory Shared Parental Pay if you’re employed and you’re eligible for either:

  • Statutory Maternity Pay or Statutory Adoption Pay
  • Statutory Paternity Pay and your partner is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance or Statutory Adoption Pay.

In the 2016-17 tax year, SPL is £139.58 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.    You, as the child’s mother, must end your maternity leave and maternity pay or Maternity Allowance before either parent can get Shared Parental Leave or Pay.

You have the right to end maternity leave early and convert it to Shared Parental Leave to allow you and your partner to decide how to split your time off in the year following the birth of the child.


Other Working Rights for Mothers

  • The right to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child, up to the child’s 18th birthday.
  • The right to reasonable time off without pay to deal with an urgent situation, such as a child or childminder falling ill.
  • If the child is disabled, the right not to be discriminated against because of her association with a person with a disability.
  • The right to “rest facilities” in the event that a woman is continuing to breastfeed or express milk following her return to work after maternity leave.
  • The right (along with all other employees with 6 months’ service) to request to vary the employee’s working pattern.


Over half the population are women and many of those will, at some point in their lives, be pregnant and mothers. Stand with us as we imagine a people and place that values the life & health of women and their children, and pursues the wellbeing of both – together.