Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay

The Maternity Pay Period

Length of the Maternity Pay Period

The Maternity Pay Period (MPP) is to last for a maximum of 39 consecutive weeks. Only women expecting babies on or after 1 April 2007 will qualify for a 39 week MPP. Women expecting babies up to and including 31 March 2007 will continue to qualify for 26 weeks.

Start of the Maternity Pay Period

Currently where a woman has given her employer notice of the date she expects their Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) liability to begin, the MPP starts from the week following the week she ceased work in accordance with that notice – in practice the Sunday following the day she stopped work in accordance with that notice. The new rule, which applies only to women whose babies are due on or after 1 April 2007, enables the period to start on any day of the week as specified by the woman in the notice she gives to her employer. The woman is required to tell her employer when she wants her SMP to start and she must have stopped work in accordance with that notice. Prior to the start of her SMP she may have been absent from work for other reasons – perhaps she chose to take some annual leave before her SMP starts or she has been on sick leave. This will not affect her choice of when she wants her SMP to start.

In line with this "any day" start, where a woman actually resigns from her employment after the 11th week before her expected date of childbirth but before her MPP is due to start the MPP will start the day after the day her employment ends (instead of the Sunday after as now).

There is no change in the existing rules for the start of the MPP in cases of early birth (ie births which take place before the 11th week or before the date she wants her MPP to start) or where the woman is absent from work for a pregnancy related reason in the last 4 weeks of her pregnancy. In these cases the MPP already starts from "any day" and payroll systems may already provide for this. Thus the change simply extends the existing principles applied to early birth and pregnancy related absence cases to all women.

As is the case now for Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Paternity Pay and for SMP where the start of the MPP is triggered by an early birth or pregnancy related absence, "weeks" in the MPP will mean any period of 7 days. This means that where, for example, a MPP starts on Tuesday, "weeks" within that MPP will run from Tuesday through to the following Monday and so on throughout the MPP.

Split-week payments of SMP (the weekly rate of SMP divided by 7)

A woman expecting a baby on or after 1 April 2007 will be entitled to 39 consecutive weeks of SMP. SMP is due for whole weeks. In other words the woman is entitled (or not entitled) to a weeks payment of SMP. Just to be clear SMP is calculated, due and payable for whole weeks. The rule changes we have made will allow a particular weeks SMP to be split over two payment periods (eg two months salary).

To achieve this the rules have been amended to allow the weekly payment of SMP to be divided by 7 and thus into amounts corresponding to a day. This is intended to make it easier for employers to align SMP payments with the pay practice in the employment. For example where a SMP pay week is split between two calendar months, the relevant number of days can be paid with each salary payment – two sevenths with the May salary, five sevenths with the June salary. What this does not mean is that SMP is a daily payment. A woman cannot be entitled to one days SMP in the same way that a person can be entitled to one days Statutory Sick Pay. A woman will be entitled to up to 39 weeks SMP. Even if she returns to work before the end of her MPP (eg in the middle of an SMP pay week) she will only be entitled (or not entitled) to receive whole weeks of SMP.

Where a weeks payment of SMP is split (to fit in with the monthly pay practice for example) and the amount due includes fractions, then, as now, payments should be rounded to the next whole number of pence.

The regulations are being amended to specifically provide for rounding of any payment of SMP which is made for part of a week. Where such a payment is made therefore the employer may recover the relevant percentage against that sum. It may be that such rounding will result in an amount being paid which exceeds the standard rate by a penny or two. This is acceptable and guidance will make it clear that the employer may recover the relevant percentage of whatever sum has been paid.

The regulations only make specific provision for the timing of SMP payments following a HMRC decision on the employer’s liability to pay. The employer is therefore free to pay SMP in any way he chooses except that Statutory Maternity Pay cannot be paid in kind or by way of the provision of board and lodging or services or other facilities. This frees the employer to decide for himself the best way of making statutory payments. The usual practice is for the employer to pay SMP in the same way that other payments of remuneration are made to employees within the organisation or business.

Maternity Leave & Statutory Maternity Pay business advice Crown Copyright © 2003-2011

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