Maternity Leave: What are your rights?

Becoming a parent is a momentous, life-changing experience and your job may be the last thing on your mind as you adjust to the news of life with a newborn.

However, it is important to understand your employment law rights when you are pregnant as well as for when you want to return to work. Warners Solicitors employment law specialists explain the current legal position on maternity leave for mothers and paternity leave for fathers.

Maternity leave rights

How much maternity leave are you entitled to in the UK?

Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks. The first 26 weeks are made up of ordinary maternity leave and the last 26 weeks constitutes additional maternity leave.

You do not have to take the full 52 weeks leave but you must take at least two weeks’ leave after your baby is born, or four weeks if you work in a factory.

You are entitled to statutory maternity leave if you are an employee – as opposed to a ‘worker’ – regardless of how long you have been employed, how many hours you work, or how much you get paid.

You are still entitled to statutory maternity leave if your baby is born early; is stillborn after the start of your 24th week of pregnancy; or dies after being born.

While you are on statutory maternity leave your employment rights are protected. This includes your right to pay, holidays and returning to a job.

When to notify employer of maternity leave

At least 15 weeks before your due date, you must tell your employer when your baby is due and when you want to start your maternity leave. Your employer must then confirm your start and end dates in writing within 28 days. You must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice if you want to change your return to work date.

Your leave can only start 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth at the earliest, but will start the day after the birth if the baby is early, or automatically if you are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week your baby is due.

Statutory maternity pay

You will be entitled to receive statutory maternity pay if:

  • you earn at least £118 a week on average;
  • you have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth;
  • you have provided your employer with proof of your pregnancy; and
  • you have given your employer at least 28 days’ notice that you want to stop work to have a baby.

If you are eligible for statutory maternity pay you will be paid for up to 39 weeks as follows:

  • for the first six weeks you will receive 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings before tax; and
  • for the remaining 33 weeks you will get £148.68 or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Returning to work after maternity leave: your rights as on employee

If you go back to work during or at the end of your ordinary maternity leave you are entitled to return to the same job. If you return to work at the end of additional maternity leave you only have the right to return to your old job if this is reasonably practicable for the employer. If not, you must be offered similar employment on no less favourable terms and with your seniority and pension conditions unaffected.

Paternity leave rights

Men can choose to take one or two weeks leave which must all be taken in one go. This is pro-rated depending on how many days you work a week. Leave cannot begin until after the birth and must end within 56 days of the birth. Men do not have to give a precise date, but can instead give a general time when their leave should start, such as the day of the birth or one week after the birth. You must give your employer 28 days’ notice if you want to change your start date.

Shared parental leave and pay

You and your partner may be able to get Shared Parent Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP). This means you can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you. The pay and leave must be taken in the first year after your child is born or adopted. You can choose to take SPL in one go or you can take it in blocks separated by periods of work. You can also choose to be off work together or to stagger the leave and pay.

To get SPL and ShPP, you and your partner need to meet the eligibility criteria.

Click here to find out more about the eligibility criteria.

Pension rights during maternity leave

Your contributions to your pension during maternity leave will be based on your actual earnings during this period which may be lower than your usual payments.

If you receive statutory maternity pay, your employer must continue making contributions to your pension for at least 39 weeks (or longer if stipulated in your employment contract) at the same level as was paid before you went on maternity leave.

Your employer will not have to contribute towards your pension during the period of your maternity leave where you are not being paid as this period is considered as unpaid leave.

Redundancy rights when on maternity leave

If you are on maternity leave you have the right to return to the same position as you held before you left – a maternity cover employee cannot be given your job. If you are made redundant while on maternity leave you must be offered any suitable alternative vacancy if one is available.

If you need advice on maternity leave or any other employment law matter, please contact our employment team on 01732 770660, email [email protected] or via our contact page. Warners Solicitors has offices in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, Kent.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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