Maternity pay: an introduction
Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 39 weeks, usually covering the first part of an employee’s maternity leave. Your employer will usually pay you in the same way, at the same time as your normal wages.
How much maternity pay can you receive?
Employers must pay employees on maternity leave a weekly rate equal to 90% of their average weekly earnings for the first six weeks. For the remaining 33 weeks you are paid whatever is the lower of the standard rate (visit the government pages for the current rate), or 90% of your average pre-tax weekly earnings.
Are you eligible for maternity pay?
You qualify for maternity pay if you have:
- been in continuous employment for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before you are due to give birth;
- average weekly earnings at or above £120 weekly before tax (2020-21 lower earnings limit, reviewed each year, visit the government pages for the current rate);
- provided your employer with confirmation of the pregnancy with a MATB1 form or equivalent;
- told your employer at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby is due (you can change the date later as long as you give at least 28 days’ notice).
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.
Enhanced maternity pay
Some employers offer enhanced maternity pay to attract and retain staff either as a contractual right or on a case-by-case basis.
They may pay more than statutory maternity pay for a fixed period. They may pay full pay for the first six weeks, half pay for the following 10 weeks and maternity pay for the remaining 23 weeks. The exact payment will differ from employer to employer.
Some employers also make a bonus payment when an employee returns to work.
How much time can you take off?
All pregnant employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave around the birth, to recover and to bond and care for the new child. An employee must take a minimum of two weeks’ leave after the birth of her child, or four if she works in a factory.
Statutory maternity leave is made up of 26 weeks “ordinary maternity leave” followed immediately by 26 weeks “additional maternity 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. Eligible parents will have the right to share up to 37 weeks’ shared parental pay (paid at the same rate as statutory maternity pay). Either the father/partner takes shared parental leave and pay and the mother stays on maternity leave and pay (although for a reduced period) or bother parents can take shared parental leave and pay, as long as they qualify.
- Employers provide maternity pay to employees who have given birth.
- You are entitled to maternity pay if you have been employed for 26 weeks before the 15th week before you are due to give birth, earn at least the lower earnings limit (£118 for 2019-20) a week before tax, and have given proper notice.
- It is against the law to discriminate against a female worker or applicant because of pregnancy, pregnancy related illness or maternity leave.
- You may work on up to 10 “keeping in touch days” during maternity leave, if your employer agrees.
What if my employer refuses to pay maternity pay?
If your employer refuses to pay, you can complain to HM Revenue & Customs who will decide whether or not you are eligible. In this case, it is a good idea to seek the help of your UNISON rep.
What if I start work with a new employer?
Maternity pay is not affected if you start work with a new employer before your baby is born provided that you remain employed with your previous employer until the end of the 15th week before the week in which you expect to give birth, but payments do stop if you start work with a new employer before that time or after the birth.
Do I have to be married to qualify for maternity pay?
No. Other types of couples and single mothers are entitled to maternity pay, as long as they fulfil the employment criteria.
Can I claim maternity pay if we adopt a child?
If you work and you are adopting a child, you may be eligible for statutory adoption pay. From 5 April 2015 statutory adoption pay is 90% of normal earning for the first six weeks and then a flat rate of £139.58 a week or 90% of normal weekly salary – whichever is lower. Some employment contracts also allow entitlement to some adoption pay in addition to what your employer is legally required to pay you.