I resigned from my old job where I had a permanent contract and accepted a 12-month contract with a public agency to replace someone who is on secondment. I discovered I was four weeks pregnant after two weeks on the job. My pregnancy was unplanned and happened in the transition from one job to another which means that I did not know I was pregnant when I joined this organisation. I have calculated the weeks and since my due date is less than 41 weeks before I joined I am not getting any pay from my new employer. My trial period is three months, but I wanted to tell my employer before this date because I have been quite anxious about this situation and afraid they will notice and ask me directly. However, I was told not to do it so early on because they could fire me during my trial period. Is this true? When should I tell my employer? Also, some people think I should start talking about a permanent contract with the organisation for as long as I can keep my pregnancy hidden legally. However I don’t think this is fair on the employer and is probably illegal. Also, I have no idea what is going to happen when I am on maternity leave and my contract expires. Will my contract and job just cease to exist? Will I be able to come back to that position or will that depend if the secondee comes back?
I understand that when you started employment in your job, you were less than 41 weeks from your due date. You will therefore not be entitled to receive statutory maternity pay, as you must be employed for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks up to and including the 15th week before the week in which the baby is due. However you may qualify to receive Maternity Allowance which is a benefit you can receive from Jobcentre plus. To qualify, you must have been employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks prior to the week your baby is due. You must also have average weekly earnings of at least £30 a week in any 13 weeks in the 6 week test period. There is further information available on Maternity Allowance at; .
You are working on a fixed term 12-month contract, but have a probationary period of three months. As you will have less than 12 months service, the employer could dismiss you at any stage (even after your probationary period expires) and you would not have a claim for unfair dismissal (provided the reason for dismissal was not your pregnancy or related to your pregnancy) as you have to have been employed for two years in order to qualify to claim unfair dismissal,.
You cannot be dismissed at any stage of employment because of your pregnancy, or a reason related to your pregnancy. Once your employer knows of your pregnancy you are protected against unfavorable treatment because of your pregnancy. Your employer must record any pregnancy-related sickness separately from any other illness absence, so that it is not used against you in any disciplinary, redundancy or dismissal decisions. If you were treated less favourably because of your pregnancy then you would have a potential claim for pregnancy-related discrimination. If you were dismissed and could show this was because of your pregnancy then you would have a potential claim for automatically unfair dismissal.
As you have highlighted, you do not legally have to inform your employer of your pregnancy, or your intention to take maternity leave, until the 15th week before your baby is due. However, doing so affords you protection from any unfavourable treatment, as an employer’s specific duty of care for a pregnant employee does not come into effect until they have been informed of your pregnancy. Many women announce their pregnancy at the end of the first trimester (at about 12 weeks) as the risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced at this stage and a growing bump will be increasingly difficult to hide past this stage!
If your employer knew you were pregnant and decided not to give you a permanent contract because of your pregnancy then again you would have a potential claim for pregnancy-related discrimination although it may be difficult to prove this was the reasons for the decision, and it is likely they will give other reasons (performance, conduct, attendance, finances etc). You may therefore decide to approach this discussion before you announce your pregnancy. Ultimately, this is up to you – in reality they may not consider making any employee permanent until they have successfully completed their probationary period.
In relation to your contract, there is no requirement to extend or renew a fixed-term contract that expires during your maternity leave period as long as there is a fair reason for non-renewal and a fair procedure is followed. The non-renewal of a fixed-term contract will be unlawful if the reason for the non-renewal is related to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. As you are employed to cover an employee who is on secondment, if they return to work at the end of the 12 months, as planned, then it is unlikely you would have any claim, as this would be a fair reason not to extend or renew your contract. Your statutory maternity leave would come to an end of the expiry of your fixed term contract, but the right to any maternity pay (in your case Maternity Allowance) would continue if you had qualified for it.
If the seconded employee decided to delay their return, then your employer should extend or renew your contract. If they decided not to do so they would need to show that this was not related to your pregnancy or having taken leave.
If your contract is made permanent before you take your maternity leave, then the requirements for your return to work will depend on the period of leave you take.
If you take “Ordinary” Maternity Leave of 26 weeks or less, you have the right to return to the same job you did before you took leave. If you take longer than that, (you can take up to a further 26 weeks “Additional” Maternity Leave) then you still have the right to return to the same job but your employer has more flexibility if they can prove is it not reasonably practicable for you to return to the same job. In those circumstances, you must be offered an appropriate and suitable alternative on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than your previous job.