Alabaster v Woolwich plc and another, ECJ, 30 March 2004, C-147/02

Maternity leave and pay: Alabaster commenced maternity leave in January 1996 and received higher rate statutory maternity pay (SMP) for the statutory period, plus an additional four-week period under her contract of employment. Alabaster then received a flat rate of SMP for a further period.

In December 1995, Alabaster received a pay increase, but this was not taken into account in calculating SMP because it took effect after the reference period (15 weeks before the due date) used to calculate SMP.

Alabaster brought a successful tribunal complaint arguing that her employer’s failure to reflect the salary increase in her SMP calculation amounted to sex discrimination. Her employer appealed; first to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, and then to the Court of Appeal, which referred the matter to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ECJ ruled that where SMP is calculated partially on pay received by a woman before her maternity leave starts, a pay rise awarded after the beginning of the SMP calculation reference period and before the end of the maternity leave must be included in calculating the amount of SMP payable. It stated that national authorities should determine how this is done in practice.

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