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UK maternity and paternity rights: your questions answered

20 March 2023

Following feedback from members, Nautilus has recently carried out a comprehensive update of its Maternity and paternity guidelines, which explain what UK employers are legally obliged to do for new and expectant parents.

Here are a few questions that the guidance document answers – and there's much more in the report itself.

I'm pregnant: what are my employer's obligations?

The UK Health and Safety Regulations 1997 require the employer to assess risks to all workers, including those who are pregnant, and to do all that is reasonably practicable to control those risks. Employers can:

  • agree temporary adjustment of working conditions and hours of work
  • provide suitable alternative work, if any is available, at the same rate of pay
  • suspend from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect the employee's safety or health, or that of the unborn child

ENG1 conditions: when do I cease work as an expectant mother?

The normal time for expectant mothers employed at sea to stop work is 24 weeks into the pregnancy. Delays to the start of maternity leave after the 24th week have to be agreed with the employer and after assessment by an approved doctor.

If I'm having a baby, am I protected from dismissal?

The UK legislation also protects against discrimination and dismissal and allows time out for antenatal care and maternity leave and for statutory maternity pay (SMP). A seafarer who works on a home-trade ship with an employer who has a place of business in the UK will be entitled. If you do not meet this condition, then contact the Union for advice.

I'm an expectant father: what are my rights?

Subject to some qualifying conditions, an employee is entitled to one or two consecutive weeks' paternity leave if they are the child's father or the partner of the child's mother.

What is shared parental leave?

This UK scheme means parents who are entitled to it can share a pot of leave and can decide to be off work at the same time and/or take it in turns to have periods of leave to look after their child.

What are a couple's adoption entitlements?

Adoption (including through surrogacy arrangements) pay and leave entitlements are broadly similar to the previously mentioned parental leave arrangements.


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