Employers need to adjust to new changes in maternity legislation

05 October 2006

Employers will need to make significant adjustments to their maternity policies and planning as a result of new legislation which came into force on 1 October, warns international law firm Bird & Bird. The new regime, which benefits women whose babies are due after 1 April 2007, has been overshadowed by the new age discrimination laws which also came into effect on the same day. Lawyers at Bird & Bird warn that employers should not lose sight of new changes to parental rights which will have a radical impact on the workplace.

The new changes will enable all women to take one full year's maternity leave, regardless of how long they have worked for their employers. Until now, all women have been able to take 6 months' leave but in order to qualify for a year they must have worked for over 6 months at the point that the baby is due. Women will also now qualify for additional payments, the period of Statutory Maternity Pay having been extended from 6 to 9 months. This is to increase again to 12 months before the end of the current parliament.

In an effort to ease the administrative burden on employers, mothers who want to return before the end of the year's leave will now have to give employers two months' notice. 'Keep in Touch' days have also been introduced enabling (though not obliging) women on maternity leave to return to work for up to 10 days during maternity leave without bringing the leave to an end.

The government is currently proposing further radical changes to extend parental rights within the current parliament.

Under the proposals, mothers will be able to 'pass on' to fathers up to 6 months of their paid maternity leave. If the mother returns to work before the end of her year's leave, the father can take up to 6 months of paid paternity leave, so parents can effectively share a year's paid entitlement. Currently, new fathers can only take up to 2 weeks' of paid paternity leave.

Bird & Bird employment lawyer Elizabeth Lang says "in the short term employers will need to reconsider their current maternity policies and plan for the changes which affect women from April. In the longer term, if the government’s proposals are introduced, they will need to adapt to a significant cultural change in the workplace because new fathers will benefit from extended rights enabling them to be away from work for up to 6 months. For many couples this will be an attractive option, particularly where the mother is a high earner".

For more information on this please contact Elizabeth Lang on 020 7415 6027 or Natalie Arestis, PR Manager on 020 7905 6248 or natalia.arestis@twobirds.com.

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Notes to Editors

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