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.
Am I entitled to paid time off for antenatal care if I’m having fertility treatment (IVF)?
Women receiving IVF are not legally entitled to paid time off to undergo treatment. However, the period between follicular puncture and the immediate transfer of the fertilized ova should be treated as equivalent to pregnancy for the purposes of sex discrimination.
How much paid time off can I take for maternity leave?
You can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave around the birth of your child.
This statutory maternity leave (SML) is made up of 26 weeks’ “ordinary maternity leave” followed by 26 weeks’ “additional maternity leave”.
Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks.
For the first six weeks, SMP is paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings (the amount before tax and national insurance deductions).
And for the following 33 weeks, it is paid at 90% of your weekly earnings or £139.58 a week, whichever is lower.
My employer has refused to pay for my time off while I’m pregnant. Is there anything I can do?
If your employer refuses you time off for an antenatal care appointment or refuses to pay, you can complain to an employment tribunal to get the wages back/to get the amount you would have received had you been given the time off.
To do this you should complain within three months of the appointment. Speak to your UNISON rep immediately for advice.
What happens if my employer doesn’t let me return to work after maternity leave?
If an employer refuses to take you back this would qualify as automatic unfair dismissal unfair dismissal if the reason that your employer has dismissed you or selected you for redundancy is your pregnancy, that you have given birth or that you took maternity leave.
There is an exception to this where it was not reasonably practical for a reason other than redundancy (such as there has been a reorganisation not involving redundancies) for your employer to permit you to return to a job that is both suitable and appropriate and an associated employer offers you a job and you accept or unreasonably refuse that job offer. (This exception does not apply where there is a redundancy situation and you have been selected for redundancy because of your pregnancy, the birth of your child or the fact that you took maternity leave).
You will also have a claim for automatic unfair dismissal, if there is a redundancy situation and you are not offered suitable alternative employment ahead of your fellow employees who are similarly affected and who are not on maternity leave.
You may also have claims for pregnancy related detriment and sex discrimination.
Even if you do not have a claim for automatic unfair dismissal, you may still have a claim for ordinary unfair dismissal.
If your employer refuses to give you your job back, speak to your UNISON rep immediately.