Related posts:No related photos. TheEmployment Act 2002 has introduced some far-reaching changes to the law andstreamlined this complicated area, writes Emma GraceMaternitylegislation has recently undergone a fairly radical change. While the impetusfor this are the ‘family-friendly’ ideals of the Government, the good news isthey have taken the opportunity to streamline this complicated area of law.Allemployees who had a baby on or since 6 April 2003 will be affected by the newlaw. The previous law still covers women due before this date, so the two willwork in tandem for a period.Abrief outline of the entitlements that applied before 6 April will help toillustrate where the changes have come in.–A maximum of 40 weeks leave in total – 18 weeks ordinary maternity leave (OML),plus a maximum possible 29 weeks additional maternity leave (AML)–To qualify for AML, the employee had to have one year or more continuousemployment by the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC)–AML was calculated from the date of birth. –To qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) during her OML, a woman had tohave worked for her employer for 26 weeks prior to the 15th week before the EWCand paid sufficient National Insurance contributions–SMP was 90 per cent of her salary for the first six weeks, and then a flat rate(£75 a week gross) for the remaining 12 weeks.Thesystem had some problems. Notably:–There were too many different dates for calculation purposes–There were different qualifying periods for leave and pay–AML was based on an unknown date, the date of birth. When the employee left,the employer did not know for definite when she would be coming backThenew law is far more simple and dates are calculated, wherever possible, from afixed point, with the same date and calculation periods used. The idea is tomake it easier for everyone to understand.Ata glance, the new legislation provides: –Maternity leave lasting up to 52 weeks in total–OML of 26 weeks–AML of up to a further 26 weeks, starting on the day of the last day of OML–To qualify for AML, employees must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment priorto the 15th week before the EWC (the same test as for SMP qualification).Noticeperiods have also been affected by the new legislation. The current legislationprovides:–Twenty-one days’ notice from the employee to the employer for both leave andpay–No flexibility to change this date once given.Theproblem here is the lack of flexibility and short notice; 21 days givesemployers little chance to organise cover. The lack of flexibility discouragesemployees from giving longer notice to employers.Intentionto leaveAta glance, the legislation now provides:–The employee must give notice no later than the 15th week before the EWC, andmust inform her employer that she is pregnant, the date of her EWC and the dateshe intends to start her leave–For the first time, the employer must reply giving the date that leave willend. This must be done within 28 days from receiving notification from theemployee.Thisis a much better system for employers, providing far more notice of thepregnancy and leave, allowing employers much more time to plan their cover.Because it is more flexible, this encourages both parties to be up frontearlier about their plans, knowing they are under no obligation to keep tothem. Employeesthen have to give 28 days’ notice, rather than 21, if they wish to end theirmaternity leave earlier than planned.Asbefore, SMP will last for the OML period – and thus 26 weeks, rather than thecurrent 18. The first six weeks are still paid at 90 per cent of salary, andthe flat rate then applies for the remaining 20 – and this has gone up to £100per week.Oncean employee has qualified for SMP, she is entitled to be paid this regardlessof whether she is still employed and regardless of why she left youremployment. This corrects a slight anomaly of law in this area.Oneinteresting thing to bear in mind is that with 52 weeks’ maternity leavepossible, an employee could well become pregnant again during her leave, and itis quite possible she could start a new period of leave without ever returningto work. Theright to return to work remains, however. Employers can take small comfort inthe fact that, following a period of AML, the right to return becomes aslightly more limited right. Where a woman has been absent for a period ofyears, showing it was not reasonably practicable for her to return to herprevious job is more likely to be possible.EmmaGrace is head of employment law at Nelson & Co Previous Article Next Article Maternity rights at a glanceOn 1 Jul 2003 in Personnel Today Comments are closed.