Most people need to work to earn a living, in which most of their time is occupied by working and travelling to work. Alongside this, most people often desire to start a family which requires time out to care and tend to the needs of children, or rather, possess a moral responsibility to care for other family members, including spouses, parents and grandparents. With such pressures on workers to combine caring for dependents and working, the work/life balance and division between demanding work and moral responsibilities can sometimes pose great difficulty. Thus, legislation has been put in place to alleviate some of the pressures and attempts to establish a better work/life balance for employees. The various legal rights to take paid and unpaid leave in respect to family responsibilities and the right to ask for adjustments to working hours are all enforceable by making complaints to employment tribunals.
Statutory Maternity Leave
All female employees can take up to 26 weeks’ of ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and 26 weeks of ‘Additional Maternity Leave’, making a year in total with 52 weeks off. Women may choose the date in which their statutory maternity leave begins, however the earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, unless the child is born earlier than anticipated. If the baby is born prematurely, the employee must provide employers with evidence, such as the birth certificate signed by doctors and midwives to confirm the date of birth. Employees will also still qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave if the baby dies after being born or if the baby is a stillborn, after the 24th week of pregnancy.
Statutory Maternity Leave is also automatically triggered when the employee is absent from work, within the four weeks of the expected week of childbirth for reasons related to the pregnancy. Statutory Maternity Leave is also compulsory 2 weeks after birth or extended to 4 weeks if the employee is a factory worker. Upon production of required evidence, pregnant employees are also entitled to leave for antenatal care and responsibilities. As such, in order to qualify for maternity leave, the employee must inform her employer of the details pertaining to the pregnancy. This includes, the expected week of childbirth and the date in which the employee intends to begin the maternity leave, as soon as reasonably practical. Employers may also request medical evidence in writing vis a vis employee’s pregnancy.
Statutory Paternity Leave
Fathers also possess similar statutory rights to paid leave on the birth or adoption of a child, similar to the conditions under maternity leave. Under statutory paternity leave, employees can choose to take either 1 or 2 weeks off, within 56 days of the birth (or adoption). The leave cannot start before the birth (or adoption) and the start date of the statutory leave period must be either:
- The date of birth of the baby
- An agreed number of days after the birth, or
- An agreed number of days after the expected week of childbirth
Fathers must also provide notice to the employer of an intention to take paternity leave. In order to qualify for paternity leave, employees must be the:
- Actual biological father of the child
- Husband or partner of the mother
- Child’s adopter, or
- Intended parent (for births via surrogacy)
The right also applies to same-sex relationships.
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How much holiday should you get?
All workers have the right to paid holiday, known as statutory annual leave, regardless of whether you work:
- On a zero-hours contract
The amount of days you will be entitled to depends on:
- How many days and hours you work
- Any additional agreements you have come to with your employer
Employers have the power to grant employee’s extra days than what each employee is already entitled to and any information pertaining to an employee’s statutory leave should be contained in the employment contract.
Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave
Most people will experience the death of someone close to them at some point during their working lives and legislation has been put in place to give people the time to grieve. Grief is a visceral reaction to experiencing a death which typically has an impact on one’s ability to do their work. Employees as working parents, who lose a child under the age of 18 or have a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy have the right to take two weeks paid bereavement leave.
Before the introduction of 2020 regulations, employers were not obliged to offer their bereaved employees leave and were only entitled to unpaid leave for emergency reasons. With parental bereavement now in place, employees can take up to two weeks leave with the minimum period being one week. With parents who are unfortunate enough to lose more than one child, respective leave is given per child regardless of whether they may have passed at the same time, thus two weeks leave in respect of each child.
An employee must give notice for Parental Bereavement Leave which are minimal if employees request to take it within eight weeks of their child’s death. An employee has 56 weeks to take the bereavement leave which starts from the date of the child’s death and when providing notice, employees must inform employers of:
- The date of the child’s death or the stillbirth
- When they intend to begin their Bereavement Leave, and
- How long the leave will be – either 1 or 2 weeks
Employees are able to give notice informally, such as by phone, text message or email which cannot be challenged by employers who may request notice in writing evidence of entitlement for leave or further details about the employee’s connection to the baby or child.
Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay is available to grieving parents and an employee must claim for it within 28 days starting from the first day of the week the employee wishes to claim for. Entitled employees will then receive around £156.66 a week or 90% of their typical weekly earnings, which will also be subject to deductions for tax and National Insurance alongside normal wages.
An employee’s terms and conditions remain unchanged during their bereavement leave, except for their remuneration and employees are protected from suffering any detrimental treatment due to taking such leave. Dismissal from employers on such grounds, or on grounds pertaining to the possibility of an employee intending to take bereavement leave will be automatically unfair.
Statutory Sick Leave
In line with legislation, employers must pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to employees and workers. Under the eligibility conditions, employees must:
- Have had an employment contract
- Be off sick for at least 4 days in a row (including weekends and non-working days)
- Earn an average of at least £123 per week
- Provide relevant evidence where employers so require
The weekly rate of SSP is £99.35 a week which can be paid for up to 28 weeks and is paid for the days employees usually work, subject to tax and NI deductions similar to wages. Agency or casual workers may also be entitled to SSP if they meet the eligibility conditions above.
Employees will not qualify for SSP if they:
- Are self-employed
- Have already had 28 weeks of SSP
- Are receiving Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance
- Are receiving or had Employment and Support Allowance in the last 12 weeks
- Are pregnant and the baby is due within the next 4 weeks, or the illness is pregnancy related
- Are working outside of the EU and not making National Insurance contributions
If there are disagreements over SSP, employees can raise their concerns with their employers pertaining to whether SSP should have been paid, and how much SSP should have been paid. If the disagreement has not been resolved informally, then employees can appeal and the issue can be raised to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or financial advice on which you should rely.