There must have been a collective sigh of exasperation from employers when the Government announced in December that it intended to change the law governing maternity regulations. Again.
The legislation is already difficult to figure out, not least because there are about a dozen different Acts and statutory instruments, some of which are contradictory.
Little wonder, then, that when the Equal Opportunities Commission and Personnel Today (16 November 2004) asked about 1,500 HR professionals what changes they would like to see, 96% said they wanted the law to be harmonised.
Keith Astill, head of corporate personnel at Nationwide, flagged up some of the main sticking points facing employers.
“Each case is potentially different, so each time there are issues to consider around qualification criteria; notification requirements; dates when the leave can start; duration of the leave; rates of pay; the right to return to work; the right to request flexible working; and accrued holiday,” he said.
Frequently asked questions
Who qualifies? All pregnant employees are entitled to 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave but if they have worked for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due, then they will also be entitled to additional maternity leave.
What is the pay? If the woman has worked for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due and earns more than £79 per week, the chances are that she will be entitled to statutory maternity pay.
This is paid at 90 per cent of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks of ordinary maternity leave. The flat rate - currently £102.80, rising to £106 from April 2005 - then cuts in, unless 90per cent of her earnings is less than the flat rate, in which case that is what she gets.
What are the notification requirements? The employee has to tell you at least 15 weeks before the baby is due that she is pregnant, the date when it is due and the date when she intends to start her maternity leave.
She has to give you 28 days' notice of when she wants her statutory maternity pay to start.
You have to tell the woman when she is due to return to work, that is either 26 or 52 weeks from the date when her ordinary maternity leave or additional maternity leave is due to start.
What rights does the woman have on her return? After ordinary materni