By Johan Roos
An employee that works more than 24 hours in a month is entitled to four consecutive months’ maternity leave as set out in section 25 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. The employee may take leave at any time from four months before the child’s birth, or from a date certified by a medical practitioner or midwife as necessary for the health and safety of the employee or the unborn child.
An employee may not return to work for at least six weeks after the birth unless a midwife or medical practitioner certifies that the employee is fit to return to work. In the event of a miscarriage occurring in the last trimester, or if the baby is stillborn, the employee is entitled to six weeks’ maternity leave after the birth or miscarriage.
In terms of section 26 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, an employer may not compel or permit an employee to work under circumstances that could be unsafe for the unborn child or the breastfeeding mother. The employer must find suitable alternative work for the employee, for a period of six months after the birth of the child.
The employee must inform the employer in writing of the date on which she plans to go on maternity leave, and on which date she will return to work. The notice must be given at least four weeks before the start of the leave.
In terms of the law, maternity leave need not be paid leave. In most cases maternity leave is unpaid leave unless the employer has a policy or agreement in place that determines otherwise. However, the employee may claim unemployment insurance during maternity leave as determined by the Minister of Labour, subject to the Unemployment Insurance Act. The employer may not terminate your employment because of your pregnancy, and if he does, it will automatically be an unfair dismissal.