Emma Burrows is partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors.
The Work and Families Act aims to deliver greater flexibility to the nation's parents and carers
The Work and Families Act, which implements the Government's family-friendly reforms, will apply to employees whose expected week of childbirth begins on or after 1 April 2007, and to people adopting children from that date.
The Act contains provisions including an extension of statutory maternity and adoption pay, leave and maternity allowance from six to nine months from April 2007, and potentially 12 months by the end of this Parliament, expected to be in 2010. It also introduces a power to extend fathers' rights to paternity leave. Additional paternity leave and pay will be introduced for birth and adoption, to be no more than 26 weeks per child.
The Government plans to introduce this at the same time as the second-stage extension of maternity leave to 12 months.
There will be optional 'keeping in touch' days so that, where employees and employers agree, a woman on ordinary or additional maternity leave can go into work for up to 10 days without losing her right to her maternity leave or statutory maternity pay. 'Keeping in touch' will also apply to adopters.
The new Act means an employer will have the right to make reasonable contact with an employee during maternity leave - for example, to discuss an employee's return to work. The right to request flexible working for carers of adults will also be extended from April 2007.
The notice period that must be given to employers by mothers and adopters if they change their return dates (from ordinary and additional maternity leave) will increase from 28 days to eight weeks.
The calculation of the daily rate of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay is clarified as being made on the basis that one day's pay is one-seventh of the weekly rate.
Finally, an employee who qualifies for ordinary maternity leave will automatically qualify for additional maternity leave. An employee currently has to have been in continuous employment for a minimum of one year from the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth in addition to qualifying for ordinary maternity leave.