Q: I’m about to go on maternity leave and I’ve been told that I won’t be getting the monthly cash allowance I get paid instead of having a company car. I think it’s really unfair, as car drivers get to keep their vehicle during maternity leave. I thought women were able to keep all their ‘perks’ during maternity leave, so is it legal for my company to do this?
A: I’m afraid the answer is ‘maybe’. According to the law on maternity leave, ‘All existing terms and conditions continue during ordinary maternity leave apart from the right to remuneration.’
‘Remuneration’ is defined as ‘only sums payable to an employee by way of wages or salary’. So while you aren’t entitled to receive your full salary, you’re definitely entitled to keep your company car, laptop, pension and private medical insurance.
Whether your car allowance is part of your salary or separate from it is a bit of a grey area. While many companies’ maternity policies do allow you to keep it, some don’t. However, you could argue that your car allowance isn’t part of your salary and that you should be entitled to it while on leave. Why not try to negotiate it?
Q: I’m having a really horrible pregnancy with some complications and need to take a lot of time off. I was also off with severe morning sickness during the first three months. I’m now 22 weeks and terrified I might be sacked for taking so much time off. A male colleague was fired for taking too much sick leave. Could it happen to me?
A: No, not unless your employers fancy a lawsuit against them for unfair dismissal or sex discrimination! Pregnancy illness is treated differently to other sorts of illness, and even if your employment contract says you can be fired for taking too many days sick leave, it’s different when you’re pregnant. Employers should record sick leave for pregnancy-related reasons separately from other sickness absence and shouldn’t use pregnancy-related illness when making a decision to dismiss, discipline or demote an employee. This applies right from the first day of your employment, too. You don’t have to wait a year to be eligible for an unfair dismissal claim.
Q: I’ve been offered a part-time job as a classroom assistant. But I’d still need childcare for my youngest, aged 2, and I don’t know if it would be financially worth it. Would I get any help with nursery costs? My husband works and earns around £20,000 a year.
A: If you qualify for Working Tax Credit, you may be entitled to some help with childcare. If you’re at least 16, a single parent working 16 hours or more a week, or you both work at least 16 hours a week, or one of you works and the other is too ill to work, and you use a registered childcare (such as a nursery), then you’re eligible to apply for up to 70% of your childcare costs. This is up to £135 a week for one child, and £200 a week for two or more children.
To work out how much you would be entitled to, log on to entitledto.com. To apply, contact the tax credits helpline on 0845 300 3900.
Real mum’s tip
‘I do a childcare swap with a friend on the days my childminder can’t look after my daughter. On Wednesdays my friend has my tot and on Fridays I have hers. It works really well.’
Emma Harper, mum to Ruby, 2