A new study has revealed that one in four women do not take the full period of maternity leave they are entitled to, due to concerns about job security.
The study, carried out by the National Childbirth Trust, raises a red flag regarding the rights of new mothers when it comes to the UK workplace. Although many workplaces offer generous terms for mothers-to-be (such as six months’ full pay plus three months’ half-pay in some cases) many are not so generous, and cause thousands of mothers to cut time with their newborn short in order to go back to work.
Four in ten women said they either hadn’t or would not be taking their full maternity leave. Of these women, 47 percent said this was down to worries about their job security. For others, affordability was the main concern.
Mums-to-be are usually entitled to take a full year off work, but Statutory Maternity Pay can vary from employer to employer.
Women are generally paid Statutory Maternity Pay for the first 39 weeks of their leave, which comes from the government and is paid directly into the mother’s bank account. After this period, their employer may offer them ‘enhanced’ maternity pay which can be paid for up to six months in some cases.
Mothers that don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay may still be eligible to receive Maternity Allowance from the government for 39 or 14 weeks, depending on their circumstances. This applies to women who are self-employed, work on a casual basis or have recently changed jobs.
By law, new fathers are entitled to two weeks off during the 56 days after the birth, but must have worked for their employer for 26 weeks and give the correct notice in order to take advantage.
The mother can also choose to transfer some of her maternity leave to her partner 20 weeks after the baby’s birth if she wishes to go back to work early. This too is paid by the government and is known as additional paternity leave. Fathers may be further entitled to additional paternity pay from their employer, for as long as between 2 and 26 weeks.
The survey by the National Childbirth Trust found that 37 percent of women wouldn’t consider sharing their maternity leave with a partner. Although reliance on a partner’s income and the feeling of maternal responsibility were large factors, the main concern of mothers was that their job role would change during their time away.
While it is illegal for a woman to be made redundant during her maternity leave, many have returned to work only to find that their job role had changed, often to a lower responsibility, lower status and sometimes at risk of redundancy.
In addition, it costs women £1200 on average to take their employers to tribunal for any discrimination they believe they are victim of. This might include harassment, unfair selection for redundancy, or performance management for issues related to her pregnancy.
Roslind Bragg, director of Maternity Action, says she wants the unfair fees to be abolished, as it is “essential for women to be able to exercise their rights”.
Shadow minister for Women and Equalities, Gloria De Piero, also wants more to be done for mothers and mothers-to-be in the workplace.[quote]”There are many great employers leading the way in supporting mums and dads staying and getting on in work. But there’s a role for government, too, to spread that best practice and end discrimination.”[/quote]