Maternity Leave & Your Rights

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Finding out that you are pregnant may come with excitement and worry. We take a look at how to handle pregnancy in the workplace.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Being discriminated against, because you are pregnant, may be the last thing on your mind when you decide to share your good news with your employer and colleagues. You may naturally expect everyone to be happy for you, but there have been cases of women being treated unfairly, or even fired after revealing their pregnancy. As long as you are able to perform major functions of your job, firing you because you are pregnant is against the law.

MATERNITY LEAVE

When taking maternity leave, you must notify your employer in writing, stating the date on which you intend to start your leave and the date you’ll return to work. Notification must be given at least four weeks before you leave. You are entitled to at least four consecutive months of unpaid maternity leave. Some companies may offer up to six months.

TIMING OF LEAVE

You may take maternity leave one month before your due date, or earlier or later as agreed or required for health reasons. A lot of mothers decide to work right up to their expected due date, so that they can spend more time with their baby. For example, if your due date is 1 July, you are allowed to take leave four weeks prior. If you however feel you are fit enough to work until 30 June, those four weeks are worked into your maternity leave.

COMING BACK TO WORK AFTER HAVING YOUR BABY

You have the right to return to your own job unless this is not possible, for example, if your post has been terminated while you were away. If this happens, it is your employer’s responsibility to offer you a suitable alternative.

PREGNANCY AND THE LAW

In South Africa, certain laws are at the centre of recognising women’s roles and offering the necessary protection to women who have the dual role of mother and worker. Some of them are…

  • Maternity leave should start four weeks before the expected date of birth and continue until your baby is three months old. If you get ill while working, you could, on medical advice, take maternity leave earlier and for longer if necessary.
  • Your employer is not legally obliged to pay you during your maternity leave period unless the company’s policy, a collective agreement, or your employment contract provides for paid maternity leave.
  • If your maternity leave is unpaid, you would be able to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund UIF for up to 17 weeks (four months). You would need to visit the nearest department of labour office with your ID book, banking details, your last six salary slips, and a completed medical certificate from your doctor confirming pregnancy and the expected date of birth. You need to apply for UIF at least eight weeks before the expected date of birth.
  • In order to qualify for maternity benefits, you must have made 13 consecutive weeks’ contributions to the UIF. If you qualify, the fund will give you a certain percentage of your ordinary daily wage, depending on how long you’ve worked and how much you earn.
  • If you are given paid leave, the company may want to sign a contract with you stating that the money paid to you during maternity leave must be paid back if you do not return to work after maternity leave.
  • You are not allowed to work for six weeks after the birth of your child, unless a medical practitioner or midwife certifies that you are fit to.
  • If you have suffered a miscarriage during the third trimester of pregnancy or your child is stillborn, you are entitled to maternity leave for six weeks after the miscarriage or stillbirth, whether or not you were on maternity leave at the time of the miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Payment of maternity benefits are determined by the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act, but some companies do offer paid maternity leave to their employees. If this is the case, a worker is not able to claim UIF (unless a portion of her salary is not covered by her employer).

THE IMPORTANCE OF TAKING MATERNITY LEAVE

It allows you to bond with your baby and gives you time to step into the role of being a mother. If you are a first time mother, learn everything you need to know about pregnancy, birth and caring for your baby. Prepare yourself and your baby for your return to work while you are on maternity leave so that the transition isn’t traumatising for any of you.

NB: Companies have different policies, find out about your company’s maternity policy.