Is your poultry unit or office up to date with the new changes affecting maternity rights and benefits? Lucy Knowles finds out more
New rules came into force last month affecting all employers, giving workers extra benefits while on maternity or paternity leave.
What has changed? According to Claire Hollins, a solicitor in the employment law team at Mace and Jones, the main change is that women are now entitled to retain their contractual benefits during the whole maternity leave period. And this is regardless of whether they are in receipt of contractual maternity pay, statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or no pay whatsoever.
Whereas previously, they were entitled to retain these during ordinary maternity leave (OML) only.
This means that all benefits such as company cars, mobile phones, gym membership and childcare vouchers all have to remain in place.
However, the position with salary remains the same and there is no requirement to pay this.
What is ordinary maternity leave (OML) and additional maternity leave (AML)?
Miss Hollins explains that Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) is the period of 26 weeks commencing with the start of maternity leave.
Additional Maternity Leave (AML) is the period of 26 weeks which immediately follows OML. Employees are presumed to take both OML and AML unless they give notice that they will be returning to work earlier.
Since the difference in treatment of benefits has been removed, the main variation now between OML and AML is the right to return to work following maternity leave, she says.
Following OML an employee has the right to return to the job in which she was employed before her absence with her seniority and terms and conditions no less favourable than would have applied had she not been absent.
Miss Hollins says that, following AML, the right to return to work is the same but if it is not reasonably practicable to permit the employee to return to the same job, the right is to another job which is both suitable for her and appropriate in all of the circumstances.
The terms and conditions for the new job must be just as favourable as those that would have applied had she not been absent. The right to return to work can be complicated and it is recommended that employers take specialist advice if they are considering making changes to an employee’s role on her return from maternity leave, adds Miss Hollins.
How does this affect pensions?
The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s (DBERR’s) view is that pension provision is unchanged by the new rules, says Miss Hollins.
This means that contributions must continue to be made while an employee is in receipt of maternity pay.
There are a number of employment lawyers, including those at Mace and Jones, who believe that the new rules can be interpreted in such a way as to read that pension rights should continue throughout maternity leave, adds Miss Hollins.
It is anticipated that there will be case law in this area in the next year or so and therefore the cautious approach is to continue to make pension contributions throughout maternity leave.
However, employers may chose to follow DBERR’s guidance and maintain this for the maternity pay period of 39 weeks only.
But Miss Hollins warns that specific advice should be sought, as claims in relation to pension schemes can be tricky and expensive.
How to I keep ahead changes to legislation?
Mace and Jones advise that changes to employment laws generally take effect at the beginning of April and October of each year and that notification of new legislation varies.
The company offers free, subscription-based email alerts that will cover any major developments in employment law and help keep you up to date with any changes. Subscribers will also been invited to attend events and training sessions.
The new rules
- Entitled to retain their contractual benefits during the whole maternity leave period
- Benefits such as cars, mobile phones, gym membership and childcare vouchers should all remain in place throughout both OML and AML
- Seek legal advice for further clarification
Want to know more?
Sign up for free email alerts at Mace & Jones www.maceandjones.co.uk
Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform www.berr.gov.uk/