Pregnancy Maternity And Parenthood

Toolkit for employers: Guidance on managing new and expectant parents

We have produced a comprehensive online toolkit to help employers manage pregnant employees, expectant parents and new parents.

You can also find information about maternity and paternity rights and obligations on the Direct Gov website.; and on the Acas website you can find information, including employers questions about: maternity rights | paternity leave and pay | adoption leave and pay | flexible working | leave for working parents

Flexible working rights for parents

Parents of children younger than six, or younger than 18 in the case of disabled children, have the right to apply for flexible working. The new procedure is not an automatic right to work flexibly but employers have a statutory duty to treat requests seriously.

To be eligible, employees must have completed 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer.

Employees are able to request a change to the hours they work, a change to the times when those hours must be worked, or to work from home. Options include job sharing and term-time working.

Mothers have successfully claimed that a refusal to allow flexibility indirectly discriminates against them. This is on the basis that a requirement to work full time, for example, is likely to impact on their role as the primary carer of dependants. Men can claim unlawful discrimination if their request to work flexibly is treated less favourably than a similar request by a female colleague, and vice versa.

There is a formal procedure for employers and their employees to follow. Employees who are eligible to request flexible working have the option to take their claim to an employment tribunal if they think their employer has not followed the correct procedure.

What employers should do

  • Treat all requests objectively and with sensitivity. Few individuals will make a request without thinking through the impact on themselves and their jobs.
  • Be consistent: employers should treat all requests – from men and women – in the same way.
  • Reply promptly: the law sets out the time limits by which you must reply to any requests under the new rights.
  • Explain your reasons clearly: if you turn down a request, you will have to explain why you are doing so in writing, giving clear business reasons.
  • Develop a flexible working policy: this will help with consistency and helps to clarify expectations on both sides.
  • Be open to flexible working in all jobs, including those at management level. There are few jobs that cannot be adapted to flexible working, often bringing benefits to the employer as well as to the employee.
  • Include all staff, not just parents of young children: parents of children over six, people caring for an elderly relative or those with active outside interests may all benefit from flexible working.
  • Publicise your policy: flexible working is increasingly popular and should increase employee motivation and loyalty. You also want to make sure that your managers and supervisors know what your policy is, so that it is correctly applied.
  • Monitor the impact: keep a record of requests to work flexibly and your response, so that you can monitor the impact of your policy.

Parental leave and other leave for dependants

Rights to parental leave and leave for dependants were introduced in the UK under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) by the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999. Each parent can take 13 weeks for each child, or 18 weeks if the child is disabled. Parental leave is, at present, unpaid.

Parental leave

Parental leave in the UK is restricted to the period before a child is 5 years old, (or 18 if the child is disabled) or within five years of placement (and before the child is 18) in the case of adoption.

Parents whose children were born or adopted before 15 December 1999 had to take their parental leave by 31 March 2005. In the case of a disabled child, they have until their child’s 18th birthday to take the leave.

  • The employee must give 21 days’ notice of their intention to take parental leave.
  • Leave can be postponed by the employer for up to 6 months, if it would be particularly disruptive to the business.
  • Leave must be taken in blocks or multiples of 1 week (parents of a disabled child are permitted to take the leave in single days if their child is entitled to Disability Living Allowance).
  • The employee may take up to a maximum of four weeks in a year for any individual child.

Time off for dependants in an emergency

Employees have a right to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant and not to be dismissed or victimised. There is no length of service requirement for this right so it is accessible to a far greater proportion of the workforce than have a right to parental leave.

There is no right to paid leave but some employers have agreements in place to give paid time off for emergencies. Employees that have to take time off for an emergency are further stressed by a loss of income at this time and value an employer that provides paid emergency leave.

Employers may include a wider definition of who is included, but the legislation states that a dependant is:

  • the partner
  • the parent
  • the child of an employee, or
  • someone who lives with the employee as part of the family.

In the case of illness, injury or breakdown of care arrangements a dependant may include:

  • someone else who relies on the employee for assistance or care, or
  • the only person who can help in an emergency

The right is designed to enable time off to be taken to deal with an unexpected problem and to put in place longer-term arrangements for a dependant when:

  • they fall ill, have an accident, are injured or distressed
  • care arrangements break down
  • an emergency arises at the school of an employee's child
  • a dependant dies (to make funeral arrangements or attend the funeral)
  • a partner has a baby.

Investigation into pregnancy discrimination

The EOC, one of the former commissions, undertook a detailed investigation in 2004/5 into the causes discrimination against new and expectant mothers in the workplace. This was a statutory investigation under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The interim and full reports containing the findings and recommendations for action can be downloaded below:

Last Updated: 04 Jun 2009