Falling pregnant forces you to think through a lot of things...birthing options, parenting styles, day care choices, to name a few. Some of the most important things for you to think about is your maternity leave, and also, how you are going to cope when you go back to work after the baby is born. There are very strict laws in this country that stipulate how much maternity leave can be taken, when it can be taken, payment regarding your time off and making the workplace ‘new-mom’ friendly.
While every company may have their own regulations and some may offer more, they need to be within the frameworko f these employment laws. To simplify matters, we are going to take you through those laws, the benefits you could get from the government and howt o claim those benefits.
Maternity leave and the law
If you work more than 24 hours in a month, the basic conditions of the employment act apply to you. These conditions entitle you, as a pregnant woman, to a total of four months of consecutive maternity leave. This leave can be taken from a month before your expected due date and for three months after your baby is born. However, if for any medical reasons your doctor suggests you take off work earlier than one month before, you can do so.
You are also not allowed to return to work within six weeks of having your baby, unless a physician can issue you with a letter saying that is safe. Most importantly, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against you because you are pregnant and you have to take maternity leave – your job security should remain the same! South African law states that the dismissal of an employee on account of her pregnancy, intended pregnancy, or any reason related to her pregnancy, is automatically unfair.
Unfortunately, in South Africa it is not compulsory for your employer to pay you any maternity leave. If you are lucky, your employer might pay maternity leave (check your employment contract).
However, if they do not, then by law you should have been contributing a portio nof your salary to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) every month. If your employer only pays you a certain percentage of your salary for maternity leave (say 70 percent), you may claim from UIF the remainder (30 percent).
Claiming from UIF
Claiming for UIF is really not as daunting as it may seem. If you make sure you have all your ducks in a row, the process is normally smooth and the payouts are timely. Although you are able to claim four months of maternity leave, the amount of months you can claim for depends on how long you have worked for.
For every six months you have worked and contributed to the UIF, you get paid out one month of maternity leave. They use the last four years to work this out, as the payment can only be claimed for up to four months. The UIF usually pays 38 to 58 percent of your salary, up to R12 478 (meaning this is the maximum amount of money you can get, no matter how much you earn). Although the law says that you need to issue your claim at least eight weeks before your due date, the labour centre’s IT systems can only process your form once your maternity leave has begun, so don’t try submitting your claims before that. To submit your claim you need to visit your nearest labour centre.
Here is a checklist of documents you will need in order to claim for your benefits:
- 13 digit bar–coded ID or your passport.
- UI-2.8 form for banking details.
- UI-2.7 form.
- UI-2.3 (which is your application form).
- Medical certificate from your doctor stating you are pregnant.
- If you are claiming after the baby is born, you will need the birth certificate.
- UI-4 form (which is the follow-up form).
All of the forms needed are available at www.labour.gov.za, and wil lalso be available to you at the labour centres themselves. If you are too ill to go yourself, you are allowed to send someone for you, just make sure they have everything from the above checklist.
Important things to remember when claiming UIF:
- Your bank account must be in your name. Not your husbands, partners or a family members name.
- It can take three to eight weeks after your claim has been submitted for you to receive your first payment.
- Once you have claimed for the first time, you need to reclaim every month that you are on maternity leave, providing the same documentation.
- If you resign while you are pregnant, you may still claim for the four months of maternity leave.
- If you are not a South African citizen, but you have a valid working permit and your employer pays a portion of your salary to UIF, you may claim for maternity leave. These applications ca ntake longer to be approved though.
- If in the last four years, you have claimed sick or unemployment benefits from the UIF, you might not be able to claim for maternity benefits. You need to check with the labour department to see if this is the case for you.
There are companies that will do all this for you. They will come to your work and get all they need from you, and will submit your monthly claims. Generally, you will pay them an amount for every month they submit and you get paid out. If you decide to use one of these companies, make sure they are credible before handing over any money to them.
Going back to work
Taking maternity leave is one thing, but returning to work after the leave is up can be a complication all on its own. Not only do you have to make arrangements for someone to look after your baby, or for your baby to go to a crèche, but if you want to continue breastfeeding, it may seem impossible.
Fortunately, it is not impossible. Our labour laws have made provisions that will let you continue breastfeeding, even though you are at work. By law, you are entitled to two 30-minute breastfeeding breaks (this is over-and-above your lunch break). As most companies in South Africa do not have on-site daycare, most breastfeeding women will use these breaks to express milk for their little ones. This law stands until your child is six months old.
If you are wondering where youare going to be able to express at work, the law also states that, “where practical, provision should be made for the establishment of facilities for breastfeeding under adequate hygienic conditions at or near the workplace.”
It is important to talk to your employer about this, as many may not know the exact laws. Try and work with your employer to ensure that coming back to work will not mean you are discriminated against in anyway, and that you can continue breastfeeding your baby.