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Employment Relations Act 1999

New section 72: Compulsory maternity leave

163.This new section and the regulations for which it provides replace the Maternity (Compulsory Leave) Regulations 1994 (SI 1994/2479), which implement the health and safety requirement in the Pregnant Workers Directive for there to be a minimum period of two weeks around the birth during which a woman must not work. The new provisions are intended to have similar effect to those they replace.

164.The new section gives the Secretary of State powers to prescribe in regulations subject to affirmative resolution procedure the duration (subject to a minimum period of two weeks) and timing (subject to its falling within the ordinary maternity leave period) of the compulsory maternity leave period. It is intended that the period prescribed will be, as now, the two weeks following the baby’s birth.

165.The provisions put the onus on the employer not to allow a woman to work during the compulsory leave period and provide that any employer who contravenes this requirement will be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale for fines for summary offences (currently £500).

166.Under the original 1996 Act provisions, giving women a basic right to maternity leave of 14 weeks, it would be possible for a woman starting her maternity leave eleven weeks before her baby is due to run out of leave if the baby was born late. In such a situation the current compulsory maternity leave rule ensures that her maternity leave continues for two weeks following the birth. With the increase in maternity leave entitlement from 14 weeks to 18 weeks, it is more difficult to envisage such a situation occurring, but nevertheless, if it did, the regulations would provide that the ordinary maternity leave period lasted until the end of the compulsory leave period.

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