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 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 are not a home worker, entertainer or model and you render personal service under supervision, direction or control and you are paid directly by the agency. In such a situation the agency is treated as your employer and is liable for payment of statutory maternity pay and national insurance contributions.
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 examinations and relaxation classes, if advised by a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered nurse.
As of October 2014 fathers are entitled to 2 days off to attend 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, if asked, provide proof of pregnancy (such as the MAT B1 form) and proof of the appointment.
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 up to ten days’ during your statutory maternity leave, without losing maternity pay or maternity allowance or ending your leave. These may be used for any kind of work, including training or any activity undertaken for the purpose of keeping in touch with the workplace.
From April 2015 parents using Shared Parental Leave will have an additional entitlement to 20 KiT days each.
If you are entitled to statutory maternity pay or a maternity allowance, your husband, partner or civil partner or the father of the child (if not the same) may be eligible for additional paternity leave and pay (APL&P), meaning they can take up to 26 weeks of leave from work. However, from 5 April 2015 has been abolished and replaced with the opportunity to take shared parental leave.
Shared parental leave
A new shared parental leave (ShPL) and pay system is set to be introduced for parents or adopters of children due or adopted on or after 5 April 2015. Mothers, fathers and adopters can opt to share parental leave around their child’s birth or placement.
Notice periods before and after maternity leave
You must tell your employer (not necessarily in writing) that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before your due date. You must also provide:
- the due date;
- evidence of the due date;
- the date you want to start maternity leave.
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
According to the Equality Act (and in Northern Ireland the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976), it is unlawful discrimination for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because of:
- being pregnant (if the discrimination occurs during the protected period);
- pregnancy-related illness (if the discrimination occurs during the protected period) – see Sick leave;
- exercising or seeking 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.
Other laws which protect women on maternity leave are:
- Employment Rights Act (Employment Rights (NI) Order 1996 in Northern Ireland) (rights to health and safety, time off for antenatal care, maternity leave, unfair dismissal);
- Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations (and in Northern Ireland the Maternity and Parental Leave etc (Northern Ireland) Regulations) (rights to maternity leave, notification requirements).
Under the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations and Northern Ireland equivalent, an employer must offer any suitable alternative vacancy to a woman whose job becomes redundant whilst on maternity leave ahead of any other employee who is similarly affected by the redundancy situation but who is not on maternity leave. Otherwise the woman’s dismissal is automatically unfair.
Next steps for UNISON representatives?
If an employee is claiming for discrimination related to maternity leave, be prepared to advise her and provide information. If she raises a grievance, you may need to attend meetings with her.
If a member seeks information, advice or representation, use the UNISON case form, which you can find via the all articles section of this topic.
- 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 (not necessarily in writing) that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the week in which baby is due.
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.
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.
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.
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.