The key to any smooth running maternity leave is communication between employers and employees. Normally the mixture of statutory and contractual rights/obligations will be respected but on occasion they can be disputed. Therefore, not only is it important to know your maternity rights, but it is also important to know what to do if they are breached in any way.
Unfortunately, there are numerous occasions where maternity rights are not respected, sometimes resulting in discriminatory action. Some of the more common issues include:-
- Simple failure to recognise and respect your statutory maternity rights
- Discriminatory action against those asking for their maternity rights
- Discriminatory action related to maternity leave/pregnancy
Not only do you have specific statutory rights, but there are also various steps you can take to protect them. Hopefully, an old-fashioned bout of common sense should be enough but sometimes further action may be required.
There are some genuine cases where an employer/employee has misunderstood their obligations/rights under maternity laws. These scenarios are best addressed on an informal basis. In this scenario you should:-
Whether you feel that your employer has misunderstood the regulations, or you have been a victim of maternity discrimination, you need to be fully aware of your rights and obligations before approaching your employer. There may be specific reference to maternity rights in your employment contract/staff handbook which can often be a good starting point for your argument.
It may be that the details undermine your minimum statutory maternity rights or they are simply illegal.
Even though you are planning an informal approach to your employer, to highlight any errors/discrepancies in their action, you can still take professional advice.
Many workplaces have trade unions there to represent the workforce. If this is the case in your workplace, you should approach your union about specific advice and guidance regarding your maternity rights and how to address any issues with your employer.
You are quite within your rights to ask your employer to explain why they arrived at a specific decision regarding your maternity rights. If you have any evidence to back up your claims of discrimination, this is the time to present it. In the vast majority of cases, many employers will recognise errors they have made and make the necessary adjustments. There is now a raft of online information which you can point your employer towards, as a means of clarifying your rights. This is where your earlier research can come in very useful.
In the majority of cases, employers will recognise any discrepancies in the way they have acted and take the necessary action.
If an informal approach to your employer does not bring about the expected results, you can then make a formal approach, which puts your complaint on a whole different footing. As this is a formal complaint, your employer is legally obliged to respond with the appropriate detail. It is also important to maintain a virtual/real paper trail which may prove useful at a later stage.
When writing to your employer you should:-
- Explain in detail what has happened
- Highlight any corrective action required
- Refer to your statutory maternity rights
- Highlight whether you think you have been discriminated against
It is vital that you add as much information as possible when writing to your employer under a formal arrangement. This will likely form the basis of any additional action required to secure your maternity rights. As your complaint becomes more formal, you should seek professional guidance to ensure that you are correct in your understanding and the action you are taking.
Thankfully, the vast majority of maternity rights disputes are resolved during the informal/formal stages, but others may require additional assistance. If the formal approach fails, the next option is to ask your employer to jointly approach the likes of ACAS, an independent conciliation service. While decisions reached by ACAS do not hold any legal powers, they offer an environment in which you can discuss disagreements/misunderstandings and come to a mutually acceptable arrangement.
There is a legal time-frame in which you must approach a conciliation service. This is three months less one day from the date your employer reached their initial decision on your maternity rights. The simple act of requesting your employer to join you at the conciliation service is required before you can go before a formal employment tribunal. A refusal of your employer to even consider conciliation services would not be well received by an employment tribunal.
On a side note, when it comes to time-barred action, it is slightly different if your complaint relates to a refusal of paid time off work for an antenatal appointment. The three months less one day timescale will begin on the date of your antenatal appointment, not the date that your employer refused paid leave.
If your understanding of your maternity rights is correct, and your employer is simply refusing to recognise them, then an employment tribunal is the next step. An employment tribunal will only take your case if early conciliation has been attempted but no decision reached (or your employer has refused to attend). It is important to recognise there is a one month timescale, from the end of early conciliation attempts, during which you must request an employment tribunal.
Many people fail to realise that the decisions of employment tribunals have a legal standing and must be honoured. In reality very few workplace disputes will reach an employment tribunal, with many resolved during the initial informal/formal discussions.
On occasion, an employer may refuse to recognise or be slow in responding to an employment tribunal’s ruling. This scenario may require more formal court action as a means of protecting your maternity rights.
It is important that you take professional advice regarding your maternity rights, even prior to an informal approach to your employer. Rules and regulations regarding maternity leave/pay are often tweaked on a regular basis. In general, these changes tend to tighten and improve your rights but it is important you are aware of any changes. As a consequence, it is sensible to take professional advice at the earliest opportunity.
Very often, simply pointing out errors in the way that your employer has approached your maternity rights can lead to corrective action. A swift resolution is in the best interests of all parties, especially during what can be difficult months of pregnancy.