The importance of sufficient maternity pay in promoting gender equality in the workplace.
The importance of employers considering a sufficient maternity pay and support package in order to promote gender equality, widen recruitment and protect employee retention rates
It may be argued that the United Kingdom has legislation in place to ensure the rights of pregnant women are protected financially, through the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Employment Relations Act 1999, the Employment Act 2002, the Work and Families Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to decide on the specific maternity packages that are provided to their pregnant employees. This therefore leaves a certain degree of trust and reliance on the employer to provide the best possible financial and pastoral support.
Why does this matter?
It is imperative that employers do consider the best policies to implement to best support pregnant employees, supportive packages not only benefit the employee but also can be argued to aid in the retention of employees and reflects hugely upon the workplace as a whole in regards to their commitment to gender equality.
Stella Creasy's 'This Mum Votes' campaign, aimed at involving more pregnant women into politics and to highlight the "lack of mum voices in the decision-making process" has further highlighted the poor treatment of pregnant employees in the workplace. Creasy has been the first Member of Parliament to attain maternity cover as an MP.
In collaboration with the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign group, responses were received from pregnant employees, stating that one woman was told she would have to use her annual leave allowance to get time off for morning sickness. Indeed, another advised how she was told that her "career would be over" when telling another colleague that she was having a third child.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has created further concern surrounding the treatment of pregnant employees as evidenced in the survey conducted by Maternity Action who between March 2020 and September 2021, surveyed 402 women who were pregnant and working, and found that 36 per cent of respondents said they felt worried about losing their job if they took time off or asked their employer to do more to protect them from Covid.
Whilst it may be the case that such incidents are isolated to certain companies or could be potentially explained, regardless it is undeniable that how employers treat their pregnant employees has far reaching effects upon the individual and the workplace in general.
Ensuring that pregnant employees receive full pay for as long as the workplace or employer can financially afford not simply the legal minimum enables the employee to be able to have children, and are supported by their employer, without having to consider their employment prospects or financial stability.
What should employers do?
Employers should reflect and compare their maternity policies with other similar companies/firms, with the aim of ensuring their policies reflect their financial situation and how they value their employees. If the company can afford to pay their pregnant employees for longer, they should. Approximately 50% of the population are able to have children, it is a complete disadvantage to an employer to exclude or undervalue this entire demographic.
Similarly, if the employer is able to compare other company maternity policies, then obviously the pregnant employees are able to do the same, which can understandably lead to those employees considering moving company or firm in order to receive adequate maternity support. In light of the “Great Resignation” whereby people are resigning at the highest rate since 2009 with “historically elevated levels of workers leaving the labour market entirely” according to Sanjay Raja, chief UK economist at Deutsche Bank, it is essential that employers consider the needs of their employees in order to improve retention and overall financial success.
How does this affect junior lawyers?
The treatment of employees by their employer in general is of huge significance when entering into the legal profession as a junior lawyer, paralegal, legal assistant and can be the main factor in deciding where to accept employment. However, it is of particular importance to junior lawyers whom are able to and may consider having children in their lifetime. Whilst it may not be at the forefront of their initial goals and plans, it is a decision that is needed to be made at the outset, in order to understand whether a long-term career at a firm is financially and pastorally viable. This is how consequential firm policy and attitude towards pregnant employees is, recruitment, retention and employee satisfaction are directly affected and influenced by policies that may be favourable but more importantly, policies which disadvantage pregnant employees.
By promoting a positive, supportive and sufficient maternity package, firms are able to reach out to a wider selection of potential employees, talented candidates who will consider their firm if their needs are met, respected and supported.
All companies and firms should reflect upon their maternity policy and hold discussions with their employees; both anonymous and public to understand how their policy can be improved to further protect pregnant employees’ interests and right. The direction of policy and practice within a firm should be employee led, and the needs and interests of the employees should be routinely listened to and discussed.
How a company or firm values any of their employees is a direct reflection of their attitude to employee’s wellbeing which directly impacts upon the retention rates and overall success of a workplace.
What is maternity leave and maternity pay?
Maternity leave is time off from employment when an employee is having a baby, the employee has the right to up to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave if they are legally classed as an employee. This right occurs from the first day of employment.
Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks, it can be split;
Ordinary Maternity Leave - first 26 weeks
Additional Maternity Leave - last 26 weeks
It is mandatory to take 2 weeks of maternity leave after the baby is born and 4 weeks if your employment is in a factory.
How much is maternity pay?
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get:
90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
£151.97 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks
What is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?
In order to obtain SMP you must:
earn on average at least £120 a week
give the correct notice and proof you’re pregnant
have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ - the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth
Rights as a pregnant employee;
It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because:
they are pregnant
they have a pregnancy-related illness
they exercise or seek to exercise the right to ordinary or additional maternity leave.
The protected period starts when you become pregnant and lasts until the end of maternity leave or until you return to work (if earlier).
It is automatically unfair to dismiss an employee or subject them to a detriment such as withholding a promotion or pay rise, for a reason connected with pregnancy, giving birth or taking maternity leave. An employee on maternity leave who is at risk of redundancy (including those on fixed term contracts) should be offered any suitable alternative employment available.