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Because family life matters

Parental leave and flexible working rights

Impending parenthood can be a daunting prospect. Not least, you may be worried about balancing the demands of your job with the responsibility of caring for a baby. It is worthwhile familiarising yourself with your legal rights well in advance.

Maternity and paternity leave

All new parents who are employees are entitled to maternity or paternity leave, however, fathers must have been employed for a certain length of time to qualify. This period is 26 weeks, leading up to the end of the 15th week before the week of the due date.

Mothers may take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, starting no earlier than 11 weeks before the due date. Fathers have the right to two weeks’ “ordinary” paternity leave and up to 26 weeks’ “additional” paternity leave if the mother has not used her full allowance.

Pay while on maternity or paternity leave

Your contract of employment might state whether you will be paid while on maternity or paternity leave. If it does not, you will qualify for paid maternity or paternity leave only if you have been employed for 26 weeks up to the 15th week before the week of the due date.

Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 29 weeks, while paternity pay is for the entire period of paternity leave.

In both cases, the rate of pay is normally either 90% of your average weekly earnings or £135.50, whichever is lower. However, for the first six weeks of maternity leave the pay is 90% of your average weekly earnings.

Parental leave

If you have been employed for more than a year you are entitled to 18 weeks’ parental leave, to be taken up to the 18th birthday of your child. This is separate to maternity and paternity leave and is designed to allow you to take time off for the ongoing responsibilities of looking after a young child.

Flexible working

If you are employed, you have the right to make a statutory request for flexible working to help you look after your child.

Flexible working can take a number of forms such as part-time, job sharing, working from home and flexitime. It can be a great way to combine the responsibilities of work and parenthood.

If you make a statutory request your employer is obliged to consider the request fairly and go through certain procedures, such as having a hearing with you to discuss it.

The government plans to extend the right to flexible working to all employees from 2014. This could be helpful if you have a friend or family member who works and helps you with childcare.

There are several bodies, notably the Citizens Advice Bureau, which can provide more information for soon-to-be-parents on their legal rights. If you are unfortunate enough to have a problem with your employer in this respect, you may wish to contact ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), a government body that assists with workplace disputes.

Written by Dominic Higgins, a Law graduate of University College London.