The continued growth and interest in women’s football has been firmly recognised by FIFA who recently stated that:
“This progress must go hand in hand with the development of an adequate regulatory framework, in order to protect players and provide women’s football with the best possible platform for sustained longevity and long-term career prospects.”
To support this development, FIFA has recently published proposed changes to the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (‘FIFA RSTP’) to provide employment protections for female players in the form of pregnancy and maternity rights.
The new FIFA proposals, which are outlined in this article, are expected to be ratified by the FIFA Council in December 2020 and will likely have a significant impact on clubs in England which operate a women’s team in The FA Women’s Super League (‘WSL’) or The FA Women’s Championship.
Proposed changes to the FIFA RSTP
#Mandatory remuneration – In the absence of ‘more beneficial conditions’ under national legislation or a collective bargaining agreement, a female player will be entitled to a period of 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave which includes at least 8 weeks’ after the birth of her child. During this 14 week period of maternity leave, a female player is entitled to be paid the equivalent of two thirds of her salary under her playing contract.
#Return to work – A female player will have a right to return to football activity after the completion of her maternity leave. In particular, a player’s club will be under an obligation to reintegrate her into football activity and provide adequate ongoing medical support. The new rules further set out that a female player shall be given the opportunity to breastfeed her infant and/or express milk. In this regard, clubs are required to provide ‘suitable facilities’ in accordance with applicable national legislation or a collective bargaining agreement.
#Protection during pregnancy – To ensure that a pregnant player is not put at risk should she choose to continue to provide ‘services’ to her club during her pregnancy, the player has the right to receive ‘regular and independent medical advice’. Importantly, a pregnant player has the right to provide services to her club in an ‘alternate manner’. In such cases, a club has an obligation to respect the player’s decision and to work with the player to ‘formalise a plan for her alternate employment’.
#Special protection from dismissal – The proposals provide that a female player should not suffer any disadvantage on the basis of her pregnancy. Therefore, the unilateral termination of a female player’s playing contract on the grounds of her becoming pregnant will be considered a termination ‘without just cause’ for the purposes of the FIFA RSTP.
This means that in a case where FIFA has jurisdiction, if a club was found to have terminated a player’s contract due to her pregnancy, in addition to the obligation to pay compensation to the player, FIFA could apply the sporting sanctions available to it under Article 17 of the FIFA RSTP such that a club could potentially be banned from registering any new players (either nationally or internationally) for two entire and consecutive registration periods which may be combined with a fine.
#Registration – Clubs may ‘exceptionally’ register a female player outside of a registration period to temporarily replace another female player who has taken maternity leave. The term of the contract of the temporary replacement shall, unless mutually agreed otherwise between the club and the player, be from the date of registration until the day prior to the start of the first registration period after the return of the player that has taken maternity leave. The registration of a female player who has completed her maternity leave will ‘exceptionally’ be allowed to occur outside the registration period.
FA/WSL Standard ‘Women’s Football Contract’/ Statutory Maternity
#Women’s Football Contract – According to FIFA, these proposed changes to the FIFA RSTP (which are binding at national level) are a series of ‘minimum working conditions’ for female players which will set a ‘minimum standard globally, with each member association free to offer higher protection’. In light of these proposed changes to the FIFA RSTP, it remains to be seen whether amendments will be made by The FA/WSL to the standard ‘Women’s Football Contract’ which is currently silent on maternity rights for female players. This means that The FA has always left it to clubs to determine what maternity entitlements they may wish to offer their female players.
#Statutory Maternity – In the absence of a bespoke FA/WSL maternity policy or a club specific maternity policy, female players would be legally entitled to statutory maternity rights which in England are significantly greater than the new ‘minimum’ protections proposed by FIFA. Statutory maternity pay for eligible employees is paid for up to 39 weeks – paid at 90% of a person’s average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks and £151.20 or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. In addition, statutory maternity leave entitlement is 52 weeks made up of ‘ordinary’ maternity leave for the first 6 weeks and ‘additional’ maternity leave for the last 26 weeks although a person does not have to take the full 52 weeks.
As outlined above, whilst maternity entitlements under English law exceed those proposed by FIFA, the fact that FIFA has recognised the football regulatory framework under the FIFA RSTP should extend to offer protection on a global level to female players in relation to pregnancy and maternity rights is a significant step for women’s football.
Given the existing legal and impending regulatory framework applicable to professional female players in the context of pregnancy and maternity rights, it is therefore important for clubs in the WSL and The FA Women’s Championship to be on the front foot in their approach to this important area and to have in place appropriate policies, procedures and, where applicable, contractual documentation.
At Centrefield, we advise on all legal and regulatory issues in women’s football, including transfers, loans, playing contracts, disciplinary issues, intermediary representation, immigration and commercial contracts.
If you would like more information on any of the points raised in this article or require advice in connection with any other matters in women’s football, please contact: Deirdre McCarthy (Senior Associate), email – DeirdreMcCarthy@centrefield.law or call 0161 672 5460.
Please note the information contained in this article is intended as a general review of the subject featured and is not intended as specific legal advice.