Following extensive consultation, the new Work and Families Bill has been published in line with the 2005 Labour election manifesto. The Bill provides new and additional rights for employees.
Will maternity pay, maternity allowance and adoption pay be affected by the new government proposals?
Yes. Statutory maternity pay (SMP), maternity allowance (MA) and statutory adoption pay will all increase from six to nine months from April 2007, with the possibility of increasing to one year by the end of the current parliament.
The consultation process indicated that while most employees and employers were happy with this change, small employers expressed concern that extending the period any further would compound the already difficult position they face in finding cover. The government responded by confirming that such concerns would be taken into account before extending the period from nine months to one year.
The government also proposes to change the eligibility rules so that all women who qualify for ordinary maternity leave (OML) also qualify for additional maternity leave (AML). That would mean dispensing with the current requirement that to qualify for AML (an additional 26 weeks’ leave on top of the 26 weeks allowed for OML), an employee must have been continuously employed for at least six months by the 14th week before the expected week of childbirth.
The government considered abolishing AML completely and simply extending OML. However, employers expressed concerns that they would be required to hold the same job open for up to 12 months. This is because at the end of OML employers are required to allow employees to return to the same job, whereas at the end of AML employees can be offered an alternative position if it is not reasonably practicable for them to return to the same job.
Do the proposals provide other benefits relating to maternity and adoption leave?
Yes. There will be greater choice and flexibility where maternity leave is concerned. This will encourage greater communication between employers and staff and allow more effective plan-ning for return to work. The new proposals will:
- introduce ‘keeping in touch days’ to enable women and adopters to work for a limited number of days during their pay period without losing statutory payments for that week or ending their leave
- clarify that reasonable contact between employer and employee is permitted at any stage during maternity leave
- extend the period of notice that a woman has to give when returning early from maternity leave from 28 days to eight weeks
- apply the same length of notice period (eight weeks) to women who wish to extend their leave
- make clear that if a mother gives her employer more than the required advance warning that she does not intend to return to work after maternity leave, this cannot in itself result in her contract being terminated early and losing her right to accrue other entitlements.
Will the proposals provide a power to extend paternity leave?
Yes. Fathers will have a right to a maximum of 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave, with statu-tory paternity pay at the flat rate for up to three months if the mother returns to work before taking her full entitlement to SMP or MA providing certain criteria are met, the details of which will be in regulations. This would be in addition to the current paid paternity leave period of one or two weeks.
Are there plans for businesses to get assistance in managing the administration of leave and pay?
Yes. The government proposes to introduce changes to harmonise the statutory maternity pay regimes. The changes will enable:
- SMP to start from any day of the week to align with the start of maternity leave. Currently maternity leave can start on any day of the week but, in most circumstances, SMP will begin on the following Sunday. Employers have suggested that it would be more straightforward for SMP to begin on the same day as leave.
- employers to pay SMP on a daily basis (SMP weekly rate divided by seven) to make it easier to align SMP with employers’ payment systems. The current system of weekly payments can make it difficult to align SMP with a woman’s normal pay period so daily payments would make the administration of SMP easier.
Marc Jones, partner, employment department, Turbervilles