Maternity leave

This is the happiest time of your life, so don’t spend it worrying about whether your job’s safe or if your employer can squeeze you out of it.

Today, most employed mothers are entitled to a year off work – or statutory maternity leave. We’re here to talk you through who can get it, how much you get paid and what happens to your job.



What are your rights?

Relax, if you are fully employed, you have a number of rights. They include:

  • Not to be dismissed from your job simply because you’re pregnant
  • Being given alternative work if your existing role is not suitable for a pregnant woman – or else being suspended on full pay
  • Time off for ante-natal appointments
  • Maternity leave (see below)
  • Maternity pay (see below)
  • Being able to return to the same job with the same terms and conditions as before – or if that’s not appropriate, being offered appropriate alternative role on similar terms.


Statutory Maternity Leave

By law you have to take at least two weeks’ maternity leave after giving birth. Most new working mothers want substantially more than this, however, and fortunately the law allows for that too.

First off though, you need to be employed by a company. If that’s the case, you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave, making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave (SML).

You should tell your employer you want to take SML at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby is due. So long as you have given the correct notice, you are entitled to this no matter:

  • How long you have been with your employer
  • How many hours you work
  • How much you are paid

Tell them:

  • You are pregnant
  • When the baby is due
  • When you want to start your maternity leave (you can change the date later, if you give at least 28 days' notice)

And if necessary provide a copy of your maternity certificate, MAT B1, which you can get from your doctor or midwife.

Your employer should then write to you within 28 days to confirm your SML and give you the date it will end. In short you can start your SML any time from 11 weeks before the beginning of the week when your baby's due. But be aware, if you are off work because of your pregnancy within four weeks of the expected birth date, your employer can make you start your SML then.

If you have a problem taking your SML, talk to your employer first of all. If that fails, you can make a complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure.

Good news:
Your employer may have their own maternity leave scheme which will be equivalent or more generous than the statutory scheme. Check your employment contract or ask your boss.

Still confused about how much maternity pay you'll receive? Check out the maternity pay calculator.


Statutory Maternity Pay

You are entitled to 39 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), if you have been:

  • Employed by the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week of your due date

  • Earning on average an amount that at least equals the lower earnings limit, which applies on the Saturday at the end of your 15th week. (This is the amount you have to earn before you are treated as paying National Insurance contributions.)

To make a claim, you simply have to tell your employer when you want your SMP to start and provide medical evidence (a MAT B1 form) of the date your baby is due.

Everyone’s SMP varies according to their salary, although the last 13 weeks of SML (if you choose to take it), is unpaid:

  • For the first six weeks you’ll be paid at 90% of your average gross weekly earnings or
    £138.18 (whichever is lowest)
  • For the remaining 33 weeks, you’ll be paid at the lower of either the standard rate of £135.45, or 90% of your average gross weekly earnings. This rate is subject to review every April.

The last 13 weeks of SML, if you choose to take it, is unpaid.

Good news:
If you’re a non-British worker with a UK working visa you may be able to get SMP – even if your visa includes the condition that you have “no recourse to public funds”, although this depends on your recent employment and earnings history.

And if you’re a worker (say freelance), rather than an employee your employer may allow you to take unpaid leave. Alternatively, you might be able to take paid holiday, unpaid leave or parental leave.

Still confused about how much maternity pay you'll receive? Check out the maternity pay calculator.


What happens to my job while I’m on SML?

This depends on your employer, but whatever happens, the company has to keep a job open for you by law. In most cases, they will advertise for maternity cover. In others, they may ask other members of your team to cover for you.

If you’re keen to return, it’s often a good idea to keep in touch with your employer. You can work for them for up to 10 days without losing your entitlement. These are called Keeping in Touch days. However, if you do further work for your company, you will lose SMP for each week in your maternity pay period in which you do that work.

Happily, you are almost more protected from losing your job than at any other time. Your employer can only make you redundant while you are on maternity leave if they can fairly justify their choice, such as closing your department and making your colleagues there redundant, too.

However, if your employer makes staff cuts across the company, they cannot make you redundant because you’re on or about to take maternity leave

If you are made redundant on SML, then you have special rights, including right to be offered any suitable alternative job in the company - even if there are other employees that might be more suitable for the job

If you are offered a new job, you are entitled to the four-week trial period, which should start when you return from SML

Good news:
During your maternity leave you are usually entitled to almost all of your normal working benefits such as holidays, pensions, company cars, redundancy pay and mobile phones. You will continue to accrue annual leave and if you decide not to return to work, your boss generally has to reimburse you for any holiday not taken.

Take note:
Your employer will assume that you will take all 52 weeks of your SML unless you say otherwise and before you go you they will confirm the date your maternity leave ends.

However, if while you are on SML you decide to return to work earlier than this, you must give your employer eight weeks’ notice in writing of your new date of return to work.


Do I have the same maternity rights if I’ve adopted?

If you’ve adopted a child, you have exactly the same maternity rights. This includes the amount of money you’ll receive, the amount of time off you’re allowed to take and what you need to tell your employer. The only thing that is different is when and how you receive your adoption pay.

In order to be eligible for adoption leave and pay, as well as being an employee for the company for at least 26 weeks and give the right amount of notice, you may need to provide proof of the adoption process (which not all employers will ask for, but have the legal right to). Just like the rules on maternity leave, only one person in a couple can take the adoption leave, while the other must take paternity leave.

You can take your adoption leave up to a fortnight before the child begins living with you. If you’re adopting a child from overseas, your adoption leave can begin from when the child arrives in the UK, or within 28 days of them arriving.

You must tell your employer within a week of being matched with a child, and explain how much leave you need, the date of when the child is coming to live with you and your proposed leave date. Your employer then must confirm your adoption leave dates within 28 days. If you want to return to work at a different date than the one previously agreed by your employer, you must give them 8 weeks’ notice.

However, not everyone is eligible for statutory adoption leave or pay. You won’t be able to claim it if you:

  • Arrange a private adoption
  • Adopt a family member (e.g. a stepchild)
  • Have a child through surrogacy
  • Become a guardian or kinship carer.


However this doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible for some support, as your local council may be able to help you instead.


Additional time off

Unpaid parental leave is an option if you want to take more time off. In fact, anyone with a child aged under five, (or under 18 if your child is disabled), has the right to up to 13 weeks’ parental leave so long as they are an employee with at least one year's continuous service with the company.

You must also either be the parent:

  • Named on the child's birth certificate
  • Named on the child's adoption certificate
  • With legal parental responsibility for a child under five (under 18 if the child is disabled)

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