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Maternity rights in Northern Ireland

All teachers in Northern Ireland are entitled to one years’ maternity leave consisting of 26 weeks ordinary and 26 weeks additional leave.

Your entitlement to occupational pay and / or statutory maternity pay (SMP) depends on your pattern prior to leave beginning.

For those who are entitled, Occupational Maternity Pay is currently as follows:

  • 4 weeks’ full pay
  • 2 weeks’ 90% of a week’s pay
  • 12 weeks’ half pay + SMP
  • 21 weeks’ SMP only

You are not required to take the entire entitlement but:

  1. you may not work for the 2 weeks following birth;
  2. you must supply a Fitness to Return to Work certificate from your GP should you wish to return before the end of 26 weeks.

Leave may not begin more than 11 weeks prior to expected date of birth. By the end of the 15th week prior to expected date, your employer should be informed and Forms TR160 (available from Teachers’ Salaries Branch) and Form MAT B1 (issued by your GP) should be submitted to your employer.

The maternity leave process can be found at TNC 2021/1 - Teachers' Maternity Leave Scheme.

During your pregnancy

These are some important milestones in relation to your maternity rights.

Early weeks

  • Check your entitlement and rights outlined in the TNC 2021/11. 
  • Establish the length of your continuous service. 
  • As soon as you have notified your employer, in writing, of your pregnancy, your employer must assess any specific risks to your condition and take appropriate steps to eliminate them. 
  • Once your employer knows you are pregnant, if you are sacked for a reason connected with your pregnancy, it will automatically be unfair dismissal. 
  • You are entitled to paid time off to go to antenatal appointments. Except in the case of a first appointment, be prepared to provide an appointment card.

Week 24

  • If your baby is stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy, all maternity rights apply in full. 

Week 25

  • To gain entitlement to SMP, you must have worked for your current employer for 26 continuous weeks by the end of this week. 
  • The end of this week is the deadline for giving notice that you are pregnant, letting your employer know your expected week of childbirth, and giving written notice of the date on which you intend to start your maternity leave. 
  • Teachers taking leave under the Burgundy Book scheme must declare that they intend to return to work at the end of the period of maternity leave.

Week 29

  • This is the earliest you can begin your maternity leave.

Week 36

  • You can choose when to start your maternity leave but, if you are off sick for a pregnancy-related reason in the last four weeks of pregnancy, your employer will require you to begin your maternity leave. 
  • If your baby is born early, your maternity leave and pay starts on the following day.

After your baby is born

Here are some important things to remember regarding your maternity rights after your baby is born.

Week of childbirth

  • Don’t forget to claim child benefit.
  • You must put in a claim within three months of the birth for it to be paid from the date of birth.

During your post-natal maternity leave

  • You only need to give notice of your return to work if you are returning earlier than at the end of the leave to which you are entitled. 
  • If you wish to return to work early, you must give your employer 21 days' written notice, if you are entitled to the Burgundy Book provisions, or eight weeks’ written notice if you are only entitled to the statutory provisions.

Week 53

  • You must return at the beginning of this week. 
  • Your employer should have notified you of the exact date within 28 days of receiving your notification of pregnancy and start date of leave.
  • If you are ill on the date of your return from maternity leave, you should inform your school, as soon as possible, and submit a medical certificate from your doctor.

Coming back at work

It is assumed that a teacher will return to work on the date specified on TR160, as confirmed by the Department of Education, and no further notification of return to work is required.

However, a teacher who wishes to return to work before or after the specified date, whether from ordinary or additional maternity leave, must give 28 days’ notice of the date on which she wishes to return to work. Where it is not given the school can postpone her return to work for a period of up to 28 days.

It is expected that this period will be kept as short as is feasible in the school’s circumstances. Where a teacher proposes to end her maternity leave before the end of the 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave (either where stipulated on the TR160 or as subsequently changed) on a date that falls during a school vacation, she must submit a fit to resume certificate from her General Practitioner on the day before the commencement of duties.

A teacher is obliged to return to her job for at least 13 weeks, including periods of school closure, as a qualifying condition to occupational maternity pay. Failure to do so will require a refund of occupational maternity pay. This requirement may be reduced or deferred at the discretion of the employing authority due, for example, to redundancy, a career break, parental leave, prolonged illness, or exceptionally due to other unavoidable cause.

Breastfeeding

Employees have a right to breastfeed and express milk in a safe environment and in a safe way, they have a right to have their job or their activities altered if it impinges on their ability to breastfeed or express milk and the employer must conduct a health and safety assessment for anyone returning to work who is still breastfeeding.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1999 state that women who want to either nurse their baby or express milk should be found a ‘clean and private’ room. If you are still breastfeeding on your return to work you should firstly inform your Principal of your requirements.

The Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland has a section on managing the health and safety of pregnant workers and new mothers.

Your employer must carry out an individual risk assessment for pregnant workers and new mothers. This applies to workers who:

  • are pregnant. 
  • have given birth in the last six months. 
  • are currently breastfeeding. 

Some working conditions and processes can potentially harm them and/or their child so you must assess and control the risks posed in each case.

Pregnant workers and breastfeeding mothers are entitled to more frequent rest breaks. You should talk to them so you can agree the timing and frequency.

You must provide a suitable area where they can rest. It should:

  • include somewhere to lie down if necessary. 
  • be hygienic and private so they can express milk if they choose to – toilets are not a suitable place for this. 
  • include somewhere to safely store their milk, for example a fridge. 

Adoption leave

Leave may be up to 39 weeks and for those entitled, paid as follows:

  • 4 weeks’ full pay
  • 2 weeks’ 90%
  • 6 weeks’ half pay + Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP)
  • 27 weeks’ SAP

Please contact AdviceLine for full details and further advice if considering taking time off when an adoption is imminent.

Still-birth and death of a baby 

In the event of the death of the baby whilst the teacher is on maternity leave, or a still-birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the Scheme will apply. Statutory Maternity Pay will apply after the 25th week of pregnancy. Any absence as a result of miscarriage or termination before 24 weeks shall be treated as ordinary absence on sick leave.

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