Maternity Myths
9th September 2010
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Maternity Myths

There are so many stories about maternity at work, so many high profile tribunal cases and so much regulation, it is hardly surprising people get in a muddle about what rights and obligations really exist.  Here are some of our favourites.

1.        Small employers are out of pocket and can’t afford to pay statutory maternity pay.    Small employers get a rebate of SMP plus a handling charge and they can get it all paid in advance of paying out SMP.   Larger employers get a rebate but it is not 100%!  No UK employer is expected to fully fund statutory maternity pay at either the higher or lower rate.

2.        There is an obligation to maintain full pay for the entire one year maternity period.  Additional payments beyond statutory entitlement are something employers can contract to, but there is no overall legal requirement for this.  Such payments do not qualify for any form of government funding or rebate.

3.        Once women are pregnant we can’t make them do any work. Healthy pregnant women can usually be expected to work normally.  If there are no risks to mother or child and the pregnancy is normal there is no reason to feel that pregnant women cannot make a real contribution in the workplace in line with what they did before.  Some women sail through pregnancy and others are constantly tired and sick – not everyone reacts the same.

4.        Women are entitled to unlimited paid time off during pregnancy.  Women are entitled to paid time off for ante-natal visits, but GPs offer commuter surgeries, shared care and arrangements can be made for medical care to take place out of hours.  If the woman is that ‘key’ to your operation you might want to consider funding private ante-natal care to avoid stress and deadline problems.

5.        Women can take as much sick leave as they want during pregnancy.  A woman who is pregnant and absent for some other non pregnancy related reason – eg a broken leg, is in the same position as any other employee and has no special additional rights.  Dismissing a woman for pregnancy related sickness would usually be an expensive mistake, but you are not obliged to pay beyond your normal contractual arrangements if a woman is sick during her pregnancy.

6.        The maternity locum is so much better than the absent woman and there is nothing you can do to keep the locum.   It happens all the time that the  temporary replacement is better than the original incumbent.  This is a sure sign your performance management systems are not working very well, since if there were performance issues with the original woman they should have been documented and dealt with long before pregnancy or maternity leave became an issue!  It is tough to start from here, but with some lateral thinking and goodwill all around it is possible to address this problem successfully.

7.        The woman wants to return to a flexible working arrangement that makes life very difficult for others and we have no choice but to agree.  Now that so many people have flexible working rights it may be very difficult to staff a workplace outside school hours, during school holidays or on Fridays.  You do have the right to reject or counter propose when faced with flexible working requests and it is reasonable to take into account what can work.   However, you should not just say ‘no’ but consider the request see if it can be made to work and counter propose what might work if there is another way.

8.        Pregnancy is a ‘self-inflicted’ injury and should not really have any special consideration in the workplace.  Self inflicted?  Most unusual!   Whatever anyone might think, the EU has determined that pregnant women should not suffer discrimination.  Ignoring laws you don’t agree with or don’t understand can be very expensive

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website :  You can follow Annabel on twitter –  Our specialist site for pregnancy and parenthood at work can be found on

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Member since: 23rd January 2012

My passions in life are employment law, argentine tango and gardening; not necessarily in that order.

I love improvising a solution against complex rules and making it look good - whether it is in business...

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