Amendments made to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 in April this year will provide additional benefits to a larger pool of women than before. Women whose expected week of confinement falls after 4 October 2008 will have the right to the same terms and conditions, except salary, during the 52 weeks of maternity leave. There will no longer be a distinction between terms and conditions during Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and Additional Maternity Leave (AML). Employers who provide non-pay benefits only during OML will feel the changes more acutely.

Previously, the position with pensions was clear. Pension contributions continued throughout the period of paid maternity leave. This amounted to some 39 weeks. Where the employee received reduced pay during maternity leave, the employer had to ensure that the total amount of contributions paid for the employee was the same as those paid before the leave began. In effect, it had to make up the shortfall.

Now, the position is unclear once maternity pay finishes. This is because views differ about whether pensions contributions are salary. If they are, there is no need to continue paying them. The Government's view is that pension contributions are salary and need not continue during periods of unpaid maternity leave. However, we believe that there is still a risk that withholding pension contributions during periods of unpaid maternity leave could leave employers open to discrimination claims.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (Amendment) Regulations 2008/656