As an expectant first-time mother, I have been recently doing the same as many others in my position: buying pushchairs and other paraphernalia, choosing baby names, and thinking considerably about the future. New parenthood brings with it a whole new set of considerations and issues: what rights do expectant parents have; how can you deal with parental leave and pay; and how do you best protect your family’s future? I have spoken to our employment and wills specialists for their advice for new parents.
Rights while pregnant
For us pregnant employees, it is important to note that we have a number of rights before we start maternity leave.
Expectant mothers may take reasonable time off (paid) for antenatal care. Antenatal care includes antenatal appointments, relaxation classes or parenting classes if a doctor or midwife has recommended them. The mother’s partner can take unpaid time off work to go to two antenatal appointments.
Health and safety
Employers must consider any health and safety risks to new and expectant mothers. Such risks might include working long hours or heavy lifting. If the employer can’t remove the risk, it must offer different, suitable employment. If no suitable alternative work is available, the employer must suspend the mother on full pay for as long as required to protect the health and safety of the mother and her child.
An employer must not discriminate against any employee for being pregnant, taking time off for antenatal appointments, or taking parental leave.
Parental leave and pay
“the laws surrounding parental leave have changed a lot over the last few years. We are moving away from the expectation that it is the mother who will stay at home and care for the new baby. New parents can choose between a number of different options, depending on their preferences and financial situations. There are eligibility requirements for the different systems. Our employment team or your employer should be able to assist if you have any queries about your entitlement.”
Eligible pregnant employees have the right to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. It is compulsory to take two weeks’ maternity leave (or four weeks for factory workers).
39 of these weeks will be paid. However, if your employment allows for contractual maternity pay, you may find you are paid for longer. Statutory maternity pay is paid at 90% of weekly pay for the first six weeks, and then at £145.18 per week.
The new mother’s partner may take one or two weeks of paternity leave if eligible. This must be taken in the first eight weeks after the baby is born.
Shared parental leave
The new parents can choose to share parental leave. This means that, as well as the above options, eligible couples can choose:
- For the mother to go back to work and the partner to stay at home; or
- For the two parents to share the parental leave in blocks.
The statutory rate for paternity and shared parental pay is £145.18 per week.
In addition to the above, there are also rights for newly adopting or surrogate parents, and employment rights once the child is born.
Thinking of the future
Starting a family is a significant change to your life. Therefore, it is a good time to start thinking about making a will or updating your current will. I spoke to Andrew Milburn, the Head of Wills and Probate at Levi Solicitors LLP, and he said that there are a number of reasons why new or expectant parents might want to look at making a will:
- You can choose someone to be your children’s guardian if you die. This is particularly important if neither parent is alive. Without a will, a court may have to decide who would take care of any children aged under 18.
- You can choose someone to act as a Trustee for any children who are too young to inherit. If you don’t have a will, you will not have a say over who would take on this role on your death.
- You can choose how old your children must be before they are entitled to their inheritance. Without a will, they will become entitled at the age of 18, which some people feel is a little young.
There is plenty to consider when starting a family, but our solicitors are here to help. For an initial consultation with our employment or wills and probate teams, call 0800 988 7756. All the best with the new baby!