In the first of a new series, Susannah Kirkman gives advice on changes to maternity and paternity leave.
For prospective parents expecting a baby on or after April 6, legislation expected to be approved by Parliament this month will entitle mothers to higher maternity pay and more time with their babies, while fathers will have the right to paid paternity leave for the first time. This also includes adoptive parents.
Regulations for parental leave are shrouded in acronyms: SMP stands for statutory maternity pay, while EWC is your expected week of confinement, and AML is any additional unpaid maternity leave. But it is worth working out your entitlements as the benefits have improved considerably, according to Val Shield, a national officer with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
Under the new rules, pregnant employees will be able to take up to a year off, depending on length of service. All women will have the right to 26 weeks' paid maternity leave instead of 18, regardless of how long they have worked. Women who have notched up 26 weeks' service by the 15th week before their baby is born will also be able to take unpaid leave for an extra 26 weeks. Until now, most teachers have been allowed a maximum of 40 weeks'
leave, if they had worked for the same employer for at least a year.
Maternity pay will also increase. After six weeks on 90 per cent of their normal pay, women will receive pound;100 statutory maternity pay for the next 20 weeks; the current rate is only pound;75 per week.
Women teachers may qualify for higher maternity pay if they have worked for their employer for at least a year up to the 11th week before the baby is due. Pay and conditions vary for school teachers, those working in independent schools and lecturers in FE and sixth-form colleges, so check your entitlements.
Fathers can take one or two weeks' paternity leave, paid at the rate of pound;100 a week. To qualify, you must have responsibility for the child's upbringing and be its biological father and the mother's partner or husband. You must have worked continuously for your employer for the 26 weeks leading up to the 15th week before the baby is due. Paternity leave has to be taken within 56 days of the birth, unless the baby is premature. Fathers can choose the dates, but they must take it consecutively.
Fathers of babies who are due before April 6 but arrive later will be entitled to paid paternity leave; mothers of babies due before April 6 will not be entitled to the improved benefits.
If you are adopting a child who will be placed with you on or after April 6, you are entitled to the same maternity leave and pay benefits. To qualify, you must be matched with a child by an approved adoption agency. You must have 26 weeks' continuous service with your employer leading into the week you receive notification. The adoptive father has the right to paternity pay and leave, with similar conditions to those for biological fathers.
Further information: www.dti.gov.ukermatleafr. htm, or see the Burgundy Book on teachers' pay and conditions available from the Employers'
Organisation for Local Government: 020 7296 6728; www.lg-employers.gov.uk