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Facts about maternity leave

For many women finding out that they are pregnant is an exciting but relatively scary experience and there will be all sorts of issues and questions that will arise: are there any foods that should be avoided? Any supplements that need to be taken? Will the baby be a boy or a girl? Less exciting but equally important considerations that may occur to a pregnant employee are when to notify her employer of her pregnancy and how much maternity leave she is entitled to.

When to Notify the Employer

A pregnant employee is not required to notify her employer of her pregnancy until the 15th week before the “Expected Week of Confinement”. The Expected Week of Confinement simply means the week the baby is due, (whether or not the birth occurs in that week or not).

In order to qualify for maternity leave an employee must notify her employer no later than the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due of the following facts:

  1.  That she is pregnant;
  2.  The Expected Week of Confinement; and
  3.  The date when she intends her maternity leave to start. This must be a date no earlier than the beginning of the 11th week before the week the baby is due.

If it is not reasonably practicable for the employee to notify their employer that they are pregnant by the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due they must do so as soon as is reasonably practicable.

Although the employee is not obliged to notify her employer of her pregnancy until the 15th week before the baby is due it may be a good idea to inform her employer of her pregnancy earlier if possible as she will not be able to benefit from the entitlement to paid time off for antenatal care or the statutory protection from discrimination or dismissal on account of her pregnancy until such time as the employer is notified of her pregnancy.

Length of Maternity Leave

The earliest date the employee can start her maternity leave is the 11th week before the due date (unless the baby is born earlier). However any pregnancy related absence from the start of the fourth week before the week the baby is due will automatically trigger the start of maternity leave.

It is up to the employee to decide how much maternity entitlement she wishes to take. The minimum amount is two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave after the birth (this is extended to 4 weeks for factory workers).

All employees, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer, will be entitled to 52 weeks Statutory Maternity Leave provided that they have complied with their duty to notify their employer of their pregnancy.

If the employee wishes to change the start date of her maternity leave she must give her employer at least 28 days notice before the date that she originally intended to start her leave or 28 days notice before the new date, whichever occurs first. However a shorter period of notice can be given if it is not reasonably practicable to give 28 days notice.

The expected date of an employee’s return will be at the end of the 52 week period. If the employee wishes to return to work earlier than this she must give her employer at least 8 weeks notice of her return date. The employer can allow the employee to return on shorter notice but can, if they wish, delay the employee’s return to work if she did not give sufficient notice. The employer cannot delay the employee’s return beyond the end of her Statutory Maternity leave period i.e. 52 weeks leave.

An employee wishing to return to work at a later date than she had originally intended can change her mind and delay her return provided she gives her employer at least 8 week’s notice prior to the original return date.

What if any employee wishes to extend her maternity leave beyond the statutory period of 52 weeks? Some employers provide the right to extend maternity leave beyond 52 weeks in their employee’s contract of employment. If this is not the case the maternity leave period can still be extended, but only by agreement.

By Marika Monaghan