My story relates to the removal of the continuous employment requirement for SMP. This should absolutely be a day one right and should not be contingent on a woman working for the same company from before she even knows she’s pregnant.
Back in early November I was offered a new job and was delighted to accept. The new role was in an area that I had been keen to get into, would allow me to make better use of my previous experience and use my skills for something I am passionate about. Additionally, the salary and benefits were much better than my current job, with a generous annual leave policy, and I felt that it would offer a much better work-life balance (which was pretty much non-existent in my previous role). I resigned soon after accepting the offer but had to work a three month notice period, so arranged to start in February of this year, finishing the old job on the Friday and starting the new one straight away on the Monday.
Then, at the end of January I found out (slightly unexpectedly!) that I was pregnant. It’s at that point that I realised there is a continuous employment requirement for SMP… I had never looked this up before (as I hadn’t planned on becoming pregnant) so was unaware that you needed to be with the same employer from before you get pregnant to qualify for maternity pay. At the point I found out I was pregnant I only had two weeks left working in the old job and didn’t feel there was any going back after resigning (and I wouldn’t have wanted to stay just to get SMP as the new job was a much better opportunity). I also didn’t want to change any plans given how early in the pregnancy I was. So I went ahead and started the new job at 7 weeks pregnant. What makes it worse is that my new employer has a generous maternity pay policy which provides full pay for 26 weeks, but only to those employees eligible for SMP. Now I am looking at only being able to get £150/week in maternity allowance (which is barely liveable with all our outgoings) rather than 6 months on full pay which I would have received if I’d gotten pregnant in March rather than January. This just seems unbelievably unfair and I find it quite overwhelming to think how much better off we would be if I was entitled to that pay from day one. It would relieve what is now a huge financial stress.
I know in the grand scheme of things I am lucky – I have a supportive partner who has a good job and we will probably manage. But this will definitely shorten the time I am able to take off and is adding a lot of stress and frustration to what should be a happy time. I don’t understand why this rule exists, especially as I transitioned directly from one job where I was an employee to another without a gap. Why should I not at least get the 90% for 6 weeks SMP? If I was off sick I would still be entitled to statutory sick pay and in this case again my employer offers full sick pay. So if I was off sick later this year I would be paid. I feel like I am being penalised for a decision I made before I even got pregnant.
When I complained to my mum she told me I shouldn’t have changed jobs if I thought I might get pregnant or should have been more careful during my notice period. I strongly believe that this is completely outdated and backwards advice which sets women’s careers back even further when starting a family. Women should not be discouraged from applying for new jobs just because there is a possibility they may get pregnant. These things are unpredictable and it makes no sense to miss out on better opportunities at this point in your life. My new role with its better pay, shorter hours and generous annual leave is far better in the long term for juggling with parenthood.
I don’t blame my employer at all (and haven’t told them I’m pregnant yet as it’s still early). But HMRC’s rules just make no sense and most employers use the eligibility criteria for SMP as a starting point even if they offer a more generous package.