The distinctions between the rights of employees on ordinary maternity leave and those on additional maternity leave are very shortly to be removed. Similar distinctions between the rights of employees on ordinary adoption leave and additional adoption leave are also to be removed.

The new rules will apply to the parents of children whose children are expected to be born (or placed for adoption) on or after 5 October 2008.

The changes follow amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to eliminate the distinction in the types of claim a woman can bring in relation to the periods of ordinary and additional maternity leave. This followed a successful challenge by the EOC that the rules relating to additional maternity leave were contrary to European sex discrimination laws.

Women on additional maternity leave will now have the right to the same non-pay related contractual terms and conditions to which a woman is entitled during ordinary maternity leave. For example, women on additional maternity leave will now be entitled to continue to receive contractual benefits such as company cars, gym membership, health insurance, mobile phones and blackberries, and accrued contractual holidays. Previously, during additional maternity leave, women were not entitled to receive such benefits. There remains no entitlement for women on ordinary or additional maternity leave to receive cash benefits such as salary or cash allowances such as car and housing allowances.

If a woman whose expected week of childbirth is on or after 5 October 2008 is not provided with the same benefits of the terms and conditions of her employment, except those relating to pay, during additional maternity leave as she is during ordinary maternity leave (or adoption leave), employers may be vulnerable to claims for sex discrimination.

Employers are advised to check and, if necessary, amend their maternity and adoption policies in light of these changes to ensure compliance.