Article | 16 Mar 2015

Freelancing and starting a family

Posted in Freelancer, Alice’s Blog,

I recently was asked to comment on whether small business owners should be allowed to reject a female candidate of child-bearing age, if they could prove that a potential pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave would significantly damage their business.

I am absolutely against this kind of policy, as it would represent a major step backwards for women. As The Work Crowd and Hanson Search launch their Gender Balance Survey, I thought I would explore the on-going issue of freelancing and maternity pay.

More and more candidates are choosing to leave the security of a permanent job behind, choosing instead the freedom and independence of being self-employed, a contract worker or a freelancer.

However, these feelings of freedom could well feel very constricting when it comes to deciding on whether to start a family.

Salaried employees enjoy paid leave and Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) at their employer's expense most freelancers are on their own. This can make it tougher to plan for pregnancy and beyond.

Sadly, the fact is that self-employed women aren't entitled to maternity pay from an employer – even if they have put in many years service for one particular organisation or client.

You will only get maternity pay if your contract terms you as an employee rather than a worker. Broadly speaking, if you are on the payroll or your employer controls when and how you work and provides you with tools and equipment, you are an employee and therefore have maternity or paternity rights.

In contrast, if you are working under a contract to provide a service, are in charge of your own hours or pay tax and national insurance on a self-employed basis, you are likely to be classified as either a worker or as self-employed, and won't get any maternity or paternity rights.

As a direct consequence – and probably unsurprisingly – freelancers take far less maternity leave than their ‘employed’ counterparts.

However, being a freelancer doesn't necessarily mean having to choose between children and your career. It just needs a little research and very careful planning.

Make sure you claim any benefits to which you are entitled including maternity allowance – check your eligibility. Usually, you qualify if you are registered as self-employed and paying Class 2 national insurance contributions - or have done some self-employed work in the 15 months before your baby is due.

Maternity allowance is paid at a standard weekly rate of £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly pre-tax earnings - whichever is lower. This is paid for a maximum 39 weeks and is free of tax and national insurance. You can't claim while you are still working.

Despite this, freelancers claiming maternity allowance may only work for ten days during their maternity leave, whereas employees are allowed to freelance as much as they like while they are off.

If the Government wants to encourage more people to join the freelance workforce – they have even appointed David Morris MP to act as an Ambassador – then surely, they need to help would-be mothers feel secure during this most vulnerable time.