McPartland Solicitors discuss maternity rights for expectant mothers living in Northern Ireland.

Maternity Rights in Northern Ireland

Whether you are having your first child or your third, maternity leave should be an exciting and happy time for any mother. However, it is also a time when information and support is needed, and questions may arise. Therefore, it is important to understand your rights as an expectant mother.

In Northern Ireland, there are relatively generous rights for pregnant workers, who are entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) around the birth of their child. Additionally, they are protected from dismissal for taking Statutory Maternity Leave. To qualify for SML, you must be an employee and have a contract. If you are an employee and have given the required notice, you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave regardless of:

  • How long you have worked for your employer;
  • How much you are paid;
  • How many hours you work

In addition to maternity leave, pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care, maternity pay and protection against unfair treatment or dismissal. Employers are also required to protect the health and safety of pregnant employees.

Qualifying for Maternity Rights

In order to qualify for maternity rights, you must notify your employer that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the expected week of birth. At this point, you should confirm when your baby is due and the date at which you want your maternity leave to begin. This date can be changed later; however, you are required to give at least 28 days’ notice.

It is a good idea to tell your employer about your pregnancy as soon as possible, as it will give them to opportunity to plan around your maternity leave and carry out their legal obligations to you. This is particularly important if there are any health and safety issues. It is also important to note that you cannot take time off work for antenatal appointments until you have informed your employer about the pregnancy.

Maternity Leave

As discussed earlier, all pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave; this is split into two 26-week blocks. The first 26 weeks are called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML). During this time, you are still entitled to the same rights under your contract of employment as if you were still at work, such as pay increases and building up holiday entitlement. The only exception is that you won’t receive your normal pay unless stated in your contract.

In addition to OML, you are entitled to another 26 weeks’ maternity leave; this is called Additional Maternity Leave (AML). If you decide to take AML, you must do so directly after Ordinary Maternity Leave so as there is no gap between them.

Statutory Maternity Leave can begin any time on, or after the 11th week before your baby is due. However, your maternity leave will automatically begin if you are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the baby is born. Additionally, it will begin the day after the birth of the baby if the baby arrives early.

Maternity Pay

While some organisations may offer enhanced maternity pay arrangements, such as paying more than the Statutory Maternity Pay for a certain period of time or offering a bonus upon return to work, this is not always the case. Most women employees will be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance.

  • Statutory Maternity Pay; Statutory Maternity Pay is a weekly payment from your employer; designed to help you take time off work before and after your baby is born. In order to be eligible for SMP, you must meet certain conditions as some workers may not be entitled to this payment. These may include agency workers, directors and educational workers. For more information on Statutory Maternity Pay, click here
  • Maternity Allowance; If you are pregnant or have a new baby, and don’t qualify for SMP; you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance. You may also be entitled to Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks if you are self-employed and pay Class 2 National Insurance or have recently stopped working. For more information on Maternity Allowance, click here.

While there are clear laws about maternity rights in Northern Ireland, some workers can experience problems at work. At H McPartland & Sons, our experienced solicitors can provide you with advice and guidance if you have been treated unfairly at work due to your pregnancy. Contact our offices today and find out how we can help you.