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Is your employer making your pregnancy and impending maternity leave a challenge? Know your rights!

Pregnant employees enjoy the right to be paid for time off work that is spent receiving antenatal care (employers cannot request that employees make up this time by working additional hours).

Despite what some unscrupulous employers may try to do to stop you, you do have rights in the workplace, and once you know what the law says, you’ll have something concrete to support your case.

The law in England and Wales provides additional rights for new mothers who decide to take maternity leave.

Qualifying for statutory maternity pay
In the UK, new mums have the right to receive paid maternity leave. Employers usually offer more generous terms than the statutory minimum, check your contract for more details.

If you work as a freelancer, self-employed or are unemployed you are probably not entitled to statutory maternity pay, but you can receive maternity allowance by going to the local job centre before your baby is born and filling in a few forms.

Expectant mums will only qualify for statutory maternity pay you’ve been working for the same employer for a minimum of 26 weeks without interruption before the end of the 15th week prior to her due date (ie before you’re six months pregnant).

Your earnings must also exceed or be equal to the lower earnings limit, which is the threshold for paying National Insurance Contributions (NIC). In the 2012/2013 tax year, the lower earnings limit was set at £107 a week.

Finally, you’ll also need to give your employer sufficient notice of their pregnancy and intention to claim statutory maternity pay. Sufficient notice is usually considered to be 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, but this can be changed provided you give your employer notice of 28 days.

Maternity leave rights
Though often inconvenient, the prospect of maternity leave does not provide employers with an opportunity to discriminate or dismiss pregnant staff. An employer cannot, for example, demand that a new mother continues working during her maternity leave.

Equally, an employer cannot prevent an employee from making an early return to work if she has given notice of at least eight weeks.

New or expectant mothers in the UK who meet the criteria described above should be aware that they are entitled to statutory maternity leave, which can last for up to 52 weeks. Statutory maternity leave is made up of ordinary maternity leave (26 weeks) and additional maternity leave (26 weeks).

Don’t be tricked into believing that maternity leave can only start after you give birth, either! Statutory maternity leave can start 11 weeks before your due date as long as you give enough notice (28 days).

Though statutory maternity leave is not compulsory, all new mothers must take between two and four weeks off work after childbirth. Employers cannot prevent new mothers from returning to work after this period provided that early notice has been given.

If you take paid maternity leave, you’re entitled to statutory maternity pay for a period of up to 39 weeks. During the first six weeks of leave, the rate of pay is fixed at 90 per cent of the employee’s average weekly earnings; thereafter, the figure falls to a flat rate of £135.45 a week (2012/2013) or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings if the employee earns less than this figure.

If you are pregnant and feel that your employer is making it difficult for you to take maternity leave or is discriminating against you in any way because of your pregnancy, you can lodge a formal grievance (complaint) against them.