Maternal Mental Health Week – knowing your employment rights during COVID-19 | Watermans

4th May 2020
Lisa Boyle

Maternal Mental Health Week – knowing your employment rights during COVID-19 | Watermans


Today marks  the start of Maternity Mental Health Awareness Week (May 4-10) and at Watermans we’d like to recognise the importance of the mental health of new and expectant mums by sharing more information about your rights when it comes to employment. 

One in five new mothers are expected to experience some kind of mental health or anxiety concern, often known as the ‘baby blues’It’s important to remember maternal mental health issues can not only impact a mother’s ability to function but can also have a detrimental impact on a child’s wellbeing.  

The legal protection given to women on maternity leave still stands during the coronavirus pandemic. 


Employment law maternity rights 


The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against a woman because she is pregnant, intends to take maternity leave, is on maternity leave or is breast feeding. 

Employers have a vital role to play in supporting a woman’s maternal mental health during her pregnancy, maternity leave and on her return to work.   

Undue stress, workplace gender discrimination and health and safety breaches can cause mental health issues and put unnecessary pressure on new mothers. 


What maternity pay rights am I entitled to? 


There are two types of maternity pay. Enhanced maternity pay gives a contractual right to certain payments over a certain period of time and is paid at more than the Statutory rate paid by the Government. 

The Statutory rate paid by the Government is 90 per cent of full salary for the first six weeks’ and then £131.20 per week for the remaining weeks. A total of 52 weeks maternity leave can be taken.  


What if I’ve been furloughed? 


Business Minister, Paul Scully, has said that statutory maternity pay will be paid at a rate based on an employee’s actual contractual earnings and not their furlough payments of 80 per cent of salary. This is being done to protect pregnanwomen from loss of income during this pivotal time.   

Many businesses are likely struggling to balance their finances during the lockdown. Normally employers would pay the equivalent of Statutory Maternity Pay to the employee directly on their normal pay date and then claim that money back from the Government. However, if employers are struggling to make the paymentthen the employee can claim this from Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs directly.  

Priya Cunningham, an employment law specialist at Watermans, commented: “The lockdown should not make any difference to a woman’s ability to exercise her right to maternity leave.  



“If a mother to be has been furloughed before she is due to give birth, then she should still be placed on maternity leave from either the date on which she agreed with her employer that she would start maternity leave, or the date that she gives birth.” 


What is maternity discrimination? 


Maternity discrimination can occur in various forms. Some of these include: 

  • inappropriate comments about a woman’s pregnancy 
  • excluding an employee from meetings, business decisions or training because of maternity leave 
  • refusing time off for antenatal classes 
  • penalising the woman for pregnancy related sickness or absence 
  • refusing a pay rise or bonus 
  • denying a promotion 
  • failing to allow a woman returning from maternity leave to go back to the same job within the first 26 weeks of maternity pay 


Pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work is daunting enough without the added stress of being discriminated against. Many women find that returning from maternity leave presents a whole new set of obstacles.  

These include anxiety about receiving the correct maternity pay or denial of a flexible working request on returning after maternity leave. Finding that their role has changed and that they have been demoted is also not unusual.  

Figures from the Equality and Human Rights commission show that one in nine women are faced with compulsory redundancy upon returning from maternity leave or feel like their employer’s conduct “forces” them out of their job.  



One in five have admitted to feeling harassed by negative comments and 10% of women felt discouraged from attending antenatal appointments.  

All of these acts of discrimination are actionable, and women should not suffer in silence at the hand of unacceptable employers. Women who face this type of discrimination deserve compensation. 

Employers should consider the need to be flexible towards a woman returning from maternity leave who will now need to balance childcare responsibilities with work. Women returning after maternity leave should be given any training that other staff received while she was on maternity leave. 


Is there a time limit for claims?  


Claims need to have been started within three months, minus a day, of the date of the last act of discrimination.  


Contact Watermans if you’d like to discuss a claim 


Our employment law specialist Priya Cunningham can offer free advice at Watermans. Contact Priya today.