A VARIETY of legislation comes into force this week, when there are changes to the arrangements for maternity leave and carers. The Works and Families Act 2006 comes into effect on Good Friday, allowing women to take up to nine months paid maternity leave and 12 months total maternity leave, regardless of the length of time they have been with the company. Employees who care for sick or elderly relatives will also be able to request flexible working hours. The much-discussed smoking ban will also come into force in England on July 1 and could result in fines of up to \u00A32,500 for companies that fail to comply with the ban. Employees are able to smoke outside, except in designated non-smoking areas, and anyone caught smoking in banned areas will be fined \u00A350, and spot fines of \u00A3200 will be given to businesses failing to display non-smoking signs. The financial impact of this piece of legislation on small businesses should not be under-estimated, warns David Robertson, chief executive of Bibby Financial Services. "While this is a very positive law for the health of the nation, many businesses, especially those in the entertainment sector, will need to be prepared for potential losses immediately following the introduction of the ban. "This, coupled with the need for investment to equip designated smoking areas for staff and customers, means it's essential that businesses start thinking now about the possible implications of the ban." The Data Protection Act 1998 legislation will see its final piece coming into force on October 24. All manual filing systems set up before October 24, 1998 should be brought in line with the Act, including making sure data stored are accurate, processed in line with the rights of individuals and kept secure with appropriate measures taken to protect the information. Under the Act, businesses can be fined up to \u00A35,000 for using or disclosing information about people without their consent. Mr Robertson said: "The small business community needs to be aware of the changes in legislation and the effects these will have on their companies. "Business owners and managers who are unsure of how the new legislation will impact on them should seek advice on what their company should be doing right now in preparation for the changes ahead.