The period of statutory maternity pay has been extended from six to nine months for employees with an expected week of childbirth on or after 1 April 2007.
Further measures include:
- removing the need to have 26 weeks’ service to qualify for a full 52 weeks maternity leave;
- the extension of the notice period, from 28 days to 8 weeks, which an employee must give her employer if she intends to return to work earlier than the end of her additional maternity leave;
- the introduction of a new provision entitling employers to make reasonable contact with an employee who is on maternity leave; and
- where the employer and the mother find the arrangement acceptable, the introduction of up to 10 ‘keeping in touch’ days to enable mothers to go into work during their statutory pay period without losing statutory payments for that week or ending their leave.
From 1st October 2006, the small employers’ exemption from the normal rule that refusing to allow a woman to return to work after maternity leave is automatically unfair dismissal is ended with regard to employees whose expected week of childbirth begins on or after 1st April 2007. This clarifies that an employee has the right to return to the same or a similar job regardless of the size of the organization.
The changes made to the maternity leave regulations are for the most part mirrored in the case of adoption leave for parents of children expected to be placed for adoption on or after 1 April 2007. However, the requirement for 26 weeks' continuous employment in order to qualify for adoption leave remains.
The Government plans to extend paid maternity leave to 52 weeks and to introduce new rights to paternity leave for fathers at a later date.
In addition, the existing provisions which give parents of young and disabled children the right to request flexible working arrangements will be amended to extend this right to those with caring responsibilities for adult relatives. The definition of ‘carer’ will be an employee who is or expects to be caring for an adult who:
- is married to, or the partner or civil partner of the employee; or
- is a near relative of the employee; or
- falls into neither category but lives at the same address as the employee
The right to request flexible working for carers will come into effect on the 6th April 2007.