Can an employer dismiss an employee to avoid paying her statutory maternity pay?

No. Under reg.3 of the Statutory Maternity Pay (General) Regulations 1986 (SI 1986/1960) an employer will still be liable to pay a former employee statutory maternity pay (SMP) if she was dismissed solely, or mainly, for the purpose of avoiding paying SMP. The employee must have at least eight weeks' continuous service with the employer for this rule to apply.

In addition, a dismissal to avoid payment of SMP will be an automatically unfair dismissal, as it will be classed as an act for a reason connected to pregnancy. It will also be discriminatory on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity under the Equality Act 2010.