Thursday, 24 May 2007

Fears over maternity pay rules

Small businesses in Shropshire will struggle to cope with new rules over extended maternity pay, according to a local solicitor.

John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the changes meant statutory maternity pay would be paid to mothers for 39 weeks, rather than the previous 26 week period.

“This is of course great news for families, but a real blow to small businesses who are already struggling to manage and administer the long-term absence of employees on maternity leave.

“And with the news that the Government is committed to increasing paid maternity leave to a year and introducing additional paternity leave of up to six months by 2010, the situation will just become even more difficult.”

John said the changes under the Work and Families Act also included an increase in the number of days which a person could go into work during maternity leave without losing entitlements.

“Until now, women who worked for even a single day during their maternity leave have lost some statutory maternity pay, and employers have been unsure whether they are allowed to contact them while they are on leave.

“But now they will be allowed to work for up to ten days to help ease them back into the workplace, and help them keep up-to-date about major changes and training opportunities – it will also help employers plan more easily.”

The changes mean mothers will get 90% of their salary for six weeks, and then a maximum of £112.75 a week for another 33 weeks. They will also need to give employers two months’ notice of when they are intending to return to work.

The Act also allows fathers the right to ask for up to 26 weeks’ unpaid paternity leave.

“All these changes are extremely positive for families, but it’s clear that the burden on businesses is growing all the time,” said John.

“Helping families is a very welcome step, but businesses deserve support too and it’s important that action is taken to protect the local economy at the same time.”