Pregnancy can be overwhelming at the best of times, let alone when there’s a worldwide pandemic and national lockdown in force.
The Government has classed pregnant women as “clinically vulnerable” and advised them to be particularly stringent in following social distancing rules by limiting face-to-face interaction with friends and family.
Most pregnant women are expected to experience mild or moderate symptoms but they do have an increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
There are also understandable concerns over the health of newborns.
So, has maternity leave been extended due to coronavirus?
No, despite petitions to lengthen the amount of time you get on maternity leave, there have been no changes made. Pregnant women continue to be entitled to 52 weeks on maternity leave and 39 weeks of maternity pay but do not have to take the full period.
They are required to take two weeks’ leave after the baby is born. The rules for maternity leave and pay still hold under the Government’s Job Retention Scheme and employers can claim through the scheme for enhanced contractual pay relating to maternity leave.
The earliest leave can be taken is up to 11 weeks before the expected week of birth, while the latest is from the date of birth itself.
Like any other employee, pregnant women can be placed on furlough leading up to their maternity leave.
Can I be on furlough and maternity leave at the same time?
You cannot receive furlough pay at the same time if you’re getting maternity allowance. If your earnings have been reduced because you were on furlough and you started family-related statutory leave on or after 25 April 2020, then the amount you receive should not be affected.
Under the rules of statutory maternity pay, your employer must pay you 90pc of your average earnings for the first six weeks and then a flat rate of £151.20 per week for 33 weeks, or 90pc of your average earnings if it is lower.
But you can decide to end your maternity leave early if your employer has offered to put you on furlough and you would receive higher wages. You will need to give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice and you will not be eligible for furlough pay until the end of the eight weeks.
The minimum amount of maternity leave you must take is two weeks, beyond that you can ask to be put on furlough. But remember that as soon as your employer ends your furlough and needs you back in work you cannot restart your maternity leave.
Do I have to return to work after maternity leave in lockdown?
Yes, if your employer asks you to go back into work after lockdown and you are unable to work from home then you would be required to go to work like any other employee.
But if your maternity leave has come to an end and you cannot return to work because you need to self-isolate then you can ask your employer to put you on furlough.
The Government said that if you are unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities because of coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, then you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough.
They are not not obliged to enact it but they cannot refuse you furlough because of your recent maternity leave, that would be considered discriminatory.
If this fails, the Government has said those who need to self-isolate can claim statutory sick pay while they stay at home.
Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety for six months after the birth, according to Maternity Action, a charity.
This means your employer must take account of risks of infection from coronavirus, and take reasonable action to remove the risks by altering your working conditions or hours of work, if you are returning to work during the pandemic.
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