What are my Rights as a Parent at Work?

Anita North
National Head of Employment

Expecting parents and new parents have extra rights at work when it comes to pay, leave and unpaid time off.

To find out your exact rights at work, you should check your workplace’s company policy and your contract. However, by law, you and your partner are entitled to certain rights, which we explain in detail below.

If you think you’ve been treated unfairly because you are pregnant or on maternity leave, our Employment Law Solicitors can advise you. Get in touch for confidential legal advice today.

Call us on 0808 258 3531 or request a callback

Expecting Parents 

You are protected from pregnancy discrimination from the beginning of your pregnancy. This protection is given for a specific period of time and is known as the protected period. If you are entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protected period lasts until the end of your additional maternity leave entitlement, or when you return to work, if earlier.

If you are not entitled to maternity leave, the protection lasts until two weeks after the end of your pregnancy.

Health and Safety

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees, which requires the employer to carry out regular risk assessments in the workplace. They are also required to carry out an individual risk assessment when an employee notifies them of their pregnancy.

They should assess:

  • your working hours e.g. whether they’re too long;
  • whether you’re getting enough breaks;
  • whether your role requires any heavy lifting or carrying;
  • whether you’ll be exposed to any toxic substances;
  • whether alternative work on similar terms and conditions can be offered.

If your employer fails to carry out a pregnancy risk assessment for you, then this could be classed as pregnancy discrimination.

Maternity Leave and Pay

Employees are entitled to take a year’s statutory maternity leave, no matter what their hours are or how long they have worked for their employer. Maternity leave should be requested in writing, at least 15 weeks before your baby’s expected due date, and you should tell your employer when you’d like your maternity leave to start and end.

There are three different types of maternity pay:

  • Statutory – the legal minimum amount, paid by your employer
  • Contractual – sometimes offered by employers as an alternative to statutory pay and will depend on your contract or company policy
  • Allowance – paid by the government if your employer can’t pay you maternity pay

Most people will get statutory maternity pay but to qualify you must:

  • Earn at least £120 a week on average (before tax)
  • Have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks before the qualifying week (the 15th week before your expected due date)

Antenatal Appointments 

If you are entitled to maternity leave, you can also take time off for antenatal appointments such as parenting classes or doctor’s appointments. Your employer is still required to pay you your usual pay.

If you are the partner of the pregnant person, you are also entitled to time off to attend one or two antenatal appointments with your partner. However, your employer is not required to pay you for this time off.

New Parents

Once your baby is born, you and your partner are still entitled to maternity, paternity and adoption leave.

Paternity Leave and Pay

As the mother’s partner or baby’s father, you are entitled to 1-2 weeks of paternity leave once your baby is born if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks before the qualifying week (the 15th week before your expected due date)
  • You are either the biological father of the child or the mother’s partner
  • You are committed to bringing up the child and taking responsibility for their care
  • You have given notice of your paternity leave

You might be entitled to statutory paternity pay if you are still working for your employer by the date of your baby’s birth and you earn at least £120 a week, on average.

Adoption Leave and Pay

If you are adopting a child by an approved adoption agency you could be entitled to adoption leave if you are an employee. Make sure you give the correct notice and proof of the adoption if your employer requests this.

If you are adopting a child from overseas, you should be entitled to adoption leave as long as you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the week you have been approved for adoption.

If you’re adopting with a partner, only one of you can take adoption leave but the other partner could get paternity leave instead. If you qualify for adoption leave you can take up to 52 weeks’ adoption leave.

You could also be entitled to statutory adoption pay if:

  • You’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the week you were approved for adoption
  • You earn at least £120 a week (before tax)
  • You give the correct notice period of the adoption date and give proof of the adoption

Parents of Grown Children

If you are already a parent to a child or teenager, you may still need to have time off to care for your children. This may be to spend more time with them or to support them during a difficult time, e.g. an illness or hospital stay.

You still have to formally request this time off from your employer and there’s no guarantee that your request will be accepted but your employer is legally obliged to consider it.

Parental Leave

You can choose to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave up until your child’s 18th birthday. The same applies if your child is adopted or receiving disability allowance. The amount of parental leave you can take within a year is usually limited to 4 weeks per child.

Employers can decide to pay you for parental leave but this will depend on company policy. To request parental leave, you usually have to have been employed by your employer for at least a year.

Flexible Working

Since Covid-19, flexible working has become increasingly popular, with many people working from home regularly and with flexible hours. It can be a great option for parents looking to balance childcare and working.

You can request flexible working from your employer as long as:

  • You’re classed as an employee
  • You’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks
  • You haven’t already made a flexible working request within the last year

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