The European Parliament has voted in favour of a controversial proposal aimed at extending maternity rights. Amongst other things, the proposal aims to guarantee women the right to at least 20 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay (although in some circumstances it will be acceptable for the last four weeks to be paid at 75%). Audrey Williams, partner and head of discrimination law at international law firm Eversheds, comments:

“Some employers will blanche at the thought of having to accommodate radically extended maternity rights at a time when many businesses are struggling to survive. But it’s important to bear in mind that the European Parliament’s proposal is a long way from becoming law. The next stage is for it to be put to a vote of national governments, where it will inevitably come under strong attack from some quarters, including the UK and Germany. There will be much lobbying from employers’ groups and there is every chance that, ultimately, the plans will be watered down considerably.”

“If rights to maternity pay do end up being enhanced, one question on every employer’s lips will be ‘who is going to pay for it?’ At present, UK employers can recover from the public purse a large proportion of the amount they pay out in statutory maternity pay. The Government will have to decide whether the same rules will apply to any increased maternity pay and, if not, how the cost should be split between taxpayer and employer.”