New maternity rights deliver benefits for Yorkshire businesses, says top lawyer

Maternity employment law

13.10.2006

In the build up to Parents Week, from October 16 to 22, a leading Yorkshire lawyer is encouraging the regions 170,000 businesses to look on the bright side of new maternity rights for staff.

Simon Coates, national head of employment law with Irwin Mitchell, based at the firms offices in Queen Street, Leeds, fears many Yorkshire bosses may have been misled into focusing only on the headline grabbing elements of changes to maternity rights, which have just taken effect. He believes they have missed the silver linings for businesses, hidden in the small print.

Mr Coates said: Much attention has understandably been paid to statutory maternity pay being extended from 26 to 39 weeks for employees whose expected week of childbirth is on or after April 1 next year.

But the legislation will also help Yorkshire businesses plan more effectively, by extending the notice period mothers need to give when returning to work from four to eight weeks. Businesses should welcome this new requirement, particularly if managers arrange cover from temporary personnel.

Maternity employment law expert

Mr Coates added the new measures also allowed businesses to split weekly payments into part-week amounts, if this was more convenient for payroll departments. In addition, companies could start these on any day of the week, allowing maternity leave and pay to begin at the same time. Previously the Revenue & Customs insisted payments had to start on the Sunday after the birth.

He said: Under the new legislation, employers in Yorkshire can also offer staff paid keeping in touch days, enabling employees to work or attend training while on maternity leave, so they don't have take as long to adjust when they return.

Mr Coates said although the extended absence may seem like a negative for businesses, managers should remember firms supporting family friendly working practices in general tended to benefit in other areas.

He said: Work by Business Link and the Department for Trade and Industry suggests allowing working parents to combine jobs with looking after children helps retain skilled and experienced staff, creates a more diverse workforce, improves employee morale, reduces absenteeism, increases productivity and attracts a wider pool for recruitment, for example.

Maternity leave

Mr Coates said employers should include references to maternity and paternity rights in equality, diversity and work-life balance policies, ensuring these documents reflected the latest legislation.

Looking ahead, he said: Changes to paternity rights are also widely expected to come into force by the end of this Parliament. These may allow mothers who return to work early to transfer up to three months of paid leave to their partners, if they have sufficient entitlement remaining.

Whilst this and extended maternity leave will disrupt some businesses in some ways, the changes do have upsides for Yorkshire bosses too and its obviously important they are aware of them and plan for future amendments properly, before they take effect.

Parents Week is organised each year by the National Family and Parenting Institute.

Any companies concerned about how the new maternity rights will affect their policies can contact the Irwin Mitchell team on 0370 1500 100.