Category Archives: maternity leave

Maternity Myths

There are so many stories about maternity at work, so many high-profile tribunal cases and regulation, it is hardly surprising people (even famous ones and politicians) get in a muddle about what rights and obligations really exist.

Here are some of our favourites.

  1. Small employers can’t afford to pay statutory maternity pay
    Small employers (paying less than £45,000 pa in National Insurance) get a rebate of SMP (statutory maternity pay) plus a handling charge and they can get it all paid in advance of paying out SMP.  Larger employers get a lower rebate.   Click here to view the HMRC information.
  2. You have to pay women their full pay to take a year off 
    There is no legal requirement to pay anything more than SMP.  If you have contracted to pay more then you did so voluntarily and you should honour this.
  3. Once women are pregnant we can’t make them do any work
    If there are no risks to mother or child and the pregnancy is normal there is no reason to feel that pregnant women cannot make a real contribution in the workplace in line with what they did before. Some women sail through pregnancy and others are constantly tired and sick – not everyone reacts the same.
  4. Women can claim unlimited paid time off during pregnancy
    Women are entitled to paid time off for ante-natal visits.  GPs offer commuter surgeries and shared care.  The woman can organise some routine  appointments out of hours. If the woman is really that ‘key’ to your operation that you can’t manage without her for a morning, you might want to consider funding private ante-natal care to avoid stress and deadline problems.
  5. Women can take as much sick leave as they want during pregnancy
    A woman who is pregnant and absent for some other non pregnancy related reason – eg a broken leg,  has no special rights. Dismissing a woman for pregnancy related sickness (which is usually short term and temporary) would usually be an expensive mistake.  You are not obliged to pay beyond your normal contractual arrangements if a woman is sick during her pregnancy.  Many small businesses pay statutory sick (SSP) pay only and there are rebates for that too.
  6. The maternity locum is so much better and there is nothing you can do to keep the locum
    It happens all the time that the temporary replacement is better than the original incumbent. This is a sure sign your performance management systems are not working very well, since if there were performance issues with the original woman they should have been documented and dealt with long before pregnancy or maternity leave became an issue! It is tough to start from here, but with some lateral thinking and goodwill all around it is possible to address this problem successfully.
  7. The woman wants to return to a flexible working arrangement  and we have no choice but to agree
    Now that so many people have flexible working rights it may be very difficult to staff a workplace outside school hours, during school holidays or on Fridays. You do have the right to reject or counter propose when faced with flexible working requests and it is reasonable to take into account what can work.  If you genuinely can’t do it, then you are not obliged to.
  8. Pregnancy is a ‘self-inflicted’ injury or a lifestyle choice and should not have special consideration in the workplace   Self inflicted? Most unusual!  Before we decide pregnancy is simply a lifestyle decision, consider what would happen if all women made the lifestyle decision not to have children as they can’t afford it!  We need new customers and tax payers – so we need young people and we have two ways to get them – immigration and birth!

And yes, there are some pregnant women who take advantage and take a bit of slack – just as there are non-pregnant employees of all kinds who do the same.   People aren’t perfect and neither are systems.

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Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : You can follow Annabel on twitter –  Our specialist site for pregnancy and parenthood at work can be found on

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