Pre-registration training and maternity pay

I would like to start a family as soon as possible, but I am training to be a pharmacist and it has been quite long winded. I will be starting a fixed term full-time employment as a pre-registration pharmacist with my current employer. I have been trying to explore the possibility of conceiving during these 12 months and how this would effect my eligibility for SMP and continuing my training after maternity leave. Those on the training can bank 13, 26 and 39 weeks of training if they ever need to take a break or change training provider. This also includes pregnancy and maternity, but most circumstances depend on the employer as maternity rules still stand. If I was to go on maternity leave during my pre-registration year, I would probably fall pregnant before my fixed-term contract started. Will I still qualify for SMP if I had been employed by them part time since November last year or would I have to fall pregnant in the fixed term contract? If my maternity leave extended past July 2019, would the employer still have to pay me SMP following the normal end date? Would they still be able to terminate the contract in July 2019 as normal or would they have to take me back on, which would allow me to complete the training with that provider?

Thank you for your query which I understand relates to your entitlement to SMP and what would happen to your fixed-term contract if the end of it coincided with a period of maternity leave.  Without seeing your contract of employment it is difficult to give a definitive answer to these questions as it is your employment contract, rather than the pharmacy pre-regulation manual, which is the starting point for such a query as it would reveal the start date for your continuous period of employment – which is key for calculating SMP – and whether the contract is a fixed-term contract or not.  However, I have attempted to give some general answers which I hope will assist:

  1. SMP is payable to a woman who is or has been an employee and who satisfies the conditions of eligibility based on her length of service and her average earnings.  To qualify for SMP you must have been continuously employed for a period of at least 26 weeks as at the end of the 15th week before the expected week of confinement (EWC).  Depending on when you fall pregnant, you would need to consider your contract of employment and perhaps take some advice as to whether your period of part time employment prior to your pre-registration year counted towards your continuous period of employment.  If your employer has not changed then it may well do.  Average earnings must be at least the lower earnings limit for paying primary Class 1 NI contributions as at the 15th week before the EWC.
  2. Once accrued, your right to receive SMP would only cease if, during the maternity pay period (MPP), you were detained in legal custody or sentenced to imprisonment, you begin work again for your employer (other than an agreed “keeping in touch” day) or you begin working for a new employer during the MPP.
  3. In short, non renewal of a fixed-term contract amounts to a dismissal for the purposes of unfair dismissal law and if you were on a fixed-term contract which was not renewed on the basis of either pregnancy or maternity leave, this would likely be an automatically unfair dismissal as it would likely be discriminatory on the grounds of sex.

*Lucy Flynn assisted in answering this question.

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