Maternity leave: an introduction
All pregnant employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave around the birth of their child. This is to help you prepare, recover and care for the baby. This includes a birth mother who gives birth in a surrogacy arrangement.
This statutory maternity leave (SML) is made up of 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave followed immediately by 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave.
During statutory maternity leave, you may be entitled to statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks of your maternity leave. Apart from wages, you keep your normal employment rights and benefits throughout all of your statutory maternity leave.
It is compulsory to take a minimum of two weeks’ leave after the birth of a child, or four weeks if you work in a factory.
You may also qualify for statutory maternity pay as an agency worker if you meet the qualifying criteria. Although agency workers do not qualify for maternity leave, they must still take at least two weeks off work after having a baby (four weeks if you are working in a factory).
Time off for antenatal appointments
Before you go on maternity leave, you are entitled to paid time off during working hours to attend antenatal appointments, such as medical appointments or parenting classes (including travelling to and from the appointments), if advised by a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered nurse.
A partner (the baby’s father or the mother’s spouse, civil partner or partner in an enduring relationship, or the parents of a child in a qualifying surrogacy arrangement) is entitled to time off work to attend two antenatal appointments. The basic entitlement is to unpaid leave but your employer may well allow paid leave for these appointments.
Employees should notify their employer of the appointment and may need to provide proof of the appointment such as an appointment card.
If you are an agency worker you are also entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments, provided that you have worked in the same role with the same hirer for 12 continuous calendar weeks, during one or more assignments.
Keeping in touch days
Keeping in touch days (KiT days) let you work or attend training for up to ten days during your statutory maternity leave, without losing maternity pay or maternity allowance or ending your leave.
Any extra pay above the statutory maternity pay will have to be negotiated.
A spouse, civil partner or partner the father of the child (if not the same) can take one or two weeks’ maternity support leave (often referred to as paternity leave).
Shared parental leave
Instead of taking the full 52 weeks of maternity or adoption leave, the mother or the ‘primary’ adopter can choose to share 50 weeks of their leave with their partner through shared parental leave.
Notice periods before and after maternity leave
You must tell your employer (not necessarily in writing unless requested by the employer) that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the week in which your baby is due. You must also provide:
- the due date;
- evidence of the due date if requested by the employer;
- the date you want to start maternity leave.
If asked, you may need to provide proof of pregnancy (such as the MAT B1 form).
You do not have to give any notice to your employer that you intend to return to work after the end of maternity leave. If you do not wish to return, you must hand in your notice in the usual way before maternity leave ends.
Maternity leave and legal protection
It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because:
- they are pregnant
- they have a pregnancy-related illness
- they exercise or seek to exercise the right to ordinary or additional maternity leave.
The protected period starts when you become pregnant and lasts until the end of maternity leave or until you return to work (if earlier). If you do not receive pay and benefits due to you because of your pregnancy, you may be able to claim discrimination.
It is automatically unfair to dismiss an employee or subject them to a detriment such as withholding a promotion or pay rise, for a reason connected with pregnancy, giving birth or taking maternity leave. An employee on maternity leave who is at risk of redundancy (including those on fixed term contracts) should be offered any suitable alternative employment available. Failure to do so will also mean an automatically unfair dismissal.
- All pregnant employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave around the birth of their child.
- During statutory maternity leave, you may be entitled to statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks.
- You must take a minimum of two weeks’ leave after the birth of your child, or four if you work in a factory.
- You must tell your employer that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the week in which baby is due.