In keeping with its agenda to promote work-life balance and "family-friendly" measures, the government has announced the following extensions to existing employment rights.
The following changes apply to all expectant mothers whose due date falls on or after 1 April 2007:
- All female employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, regardless of length of service
- The right to statutory maternity pay ("SMP") is increased from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. The rates of pay remain 90% of average earnings for the first 6 weeks, with the balance paid at the lower rate set by the government. For the year commencing 6 April 2007 the lower rate is £108.85 per week, or actual average earnings if less.
- A new right to take up to 10 "Keeping in Touch Days" is introduced. Subject to the agreement of both employer and employee, this enables a woman on maternity leave to do up to 10 days' paid work for her employer without triggering either the end of her maternity leave or her right to SMP (although her SMP entitlement will be offset against any contractual pay for a Keeping in Touch Day).
- To help employers to manage their resource planning more easily, if an employee intends to return work earlier than the end of her full leave entitlement/a previously agreed date, she must give a minimum of 8 weeks' notice. (The previous requirement was for 28 days' notice).
- Various changes are made to the administration of SMP, both to accommodate Keeping in Touch Days, and also to allow the maternity pay period during which SMP is paid to start on any day of the week. (Previously all maternity pay periods began on the Sunday following the employee's last day at work).
Equivalent changes are made in respect of the right to Statutory Adoption Leave and Statutory Adoption Pay (although Statutory Adoption Pay remains payable at a flat rate equivalent to the lower rate of SMP).