As a small business owner, sadly it’s unlikely you will be in a position to offer hugely generous sick pay or maternity/paternity packages (despite how much you would like to!). However, under UK law, there are certain statutory rights employees are entitled to by law so it’s worth being aware of these and making sure you can budget and plan accordingly.

Two key areas I’m going to briefly discuss here are:

  • Statutory sick pay; and
  • Statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental pay

Statutory sick pay

There is no right to receive full pay for time spent away from work by reason of sickness. However, employees may be entitled to receive a minimum weekly payment under the statutory sick pay (SSP) scheme if they are qualifying employees and are absent from work due to incapacity for four or more consecutive days.

Do I need to tell my employees about this right? Yes, you do! Section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 requires employers to provide employees with particulars of “any terms and conditions relating to incapacity for work due to sickness or injury, including any provision for sick pay”. You can either put information on this in the employee’s contract of employment, or you can just include a reference in their employment contract to “the provisions of some other document which is reasonably accessible to the employee”, such as a sickness policy or staff handbook, and set out the details there.

So, how much will they get paid? The rate of SSP is contained in the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 and, from April 2015, was prescribed by the Welfare Benefits Uprating Order 2015 (SI 2015/30). SSP rises every April in line with any annual increase in the consumer price index (CPI) measured in the previous September. If there is no change or a decrease in CPI, then SSP remains the same. For sick days between 6th April 2017 – 5th April 2018, the current SSP rate (each week) is £89.35. There is useful guidance from HMRC with regards to the operation of SSP on the GOV.UK website, as well as an SSP calculator to help employers work out an employee’s SSP entitlement.

As noted, there are certain eligibility criteria that an employee needs to meet to qualify for SSP so it’s worth just making sure you are familiar with these before you feel obligated to make any SSP payments. There’s a lot of useful info on this topic contained on the GOV.UK website.

Maternity, paternity and shared parental leave and pay (and don’t forget adoption leave and pay too!)

This can be a fairly complicated area with a lot to cover, but I thought it would be useful to flag a few general points about these government schemes which all business owners should be aware of on this topic. So, here we go …

  • Provided certain requirements are met (eg you have an employment contract and have worked for a company a certain amount of time), new mothers and fathers are entitled to statutory maternity or paternity pay (SMP/SPP) and statutory maternity or paternity leave (SML/SPL) from their employer.
  • However, some companies will choose to put their own policies in place and may offer employees more than the statutory minimum.
  • A useful calculator for working out what you could be owed is found on the GOV.UK website.

SMP and SML: Generally speaking, new mothers can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. You can take as much or as little of this time off but you must take two weeks’ leave after the baby is born (or four weeks if you work in a factory). SMP works roughly as follows:

  • For the first six weeks of maternity leave, you will be paid 90% of your average weekly earnings.
  • For 33 weeks after this, you will either be paid either £140.98 per week (rate as of 2nd April 2017) or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
  • After this, you will not be paid.

SPP and SPL: New fathers can take either one or two weeks off. Leave cannot start before the baby is born and must be taken within 56 days of the birth. SPP works as follows:

  • SPP is £140.98 per week (rate as of 2nd April 2017) or 90% of a father’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

What about shared parental leave? To start shared parental leave or statutory shared parental pay, the mother must end her maternity pay and leave, and then the father or her partner can take the rest of it. Parents can share SPL and SPP between them so long as they are both eligible. SPL can be taken all at once or in blocks, but must be taken between the baby’s birth and its first birthday.

And what if I’m self-employed or unemployed? Don’t worry, there is something called maternity allowance for those mothers who do not qualify for SMP (unfortunately, there’s no equivalent for men as yet) – the amount paid out will vary depending on whether you are self-employed or unemployed.

As mentioned, there are a number of requirements and nuances to how this all works in practice so it’s certainly worth looking into this in more detail if a member of your staff is pregnant. Hopefully, the above is a useful overview to start things off though!

For further information or to answer any questions you may have on this, please drop me a line at caroline@ignition.law.

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