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Rights to maternity leave

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If you’re an employee and expectant mum, you’re entitled to 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave (OML) and 26 weeks additional maternity leave (AML) which – as long as you let your employer know in the required manner - you can take no matter how long you've been with your employer, how many hours you work or how much you're paid.

The father of your child (or your partner) could have the right to up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave (APL). This is in addition to the two weeks’ statutory paternity leave they could be entitled to.

Employment rights during maternity leave

During OML and AML you’re entitled to all the contractual rights – such as pension or holidays – that you would have received if you had not been on leave, as well as any “perks” which come as part of your employment contract – such as company car or mobile phones – unless these are specifically for business use only. You can continue to accrue paid annual leave but your contractual salary rights cease and you will be paid maternity pay instead.

Telling your employers

Inform your employers at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby's due. Tell them you're pregnant, your due date and when you want to start your maternity leave (you can change the date later, with 28 days’ notice)

Your employer might want notice in writing and a copy of Form MAT B1, the maternity certificate you receive from your doctor or midwife after you've been pregnant for 21 weeks. Once you've told your employers you want to take maternity leave, they should write to you within 28 days, telling you the date when your leave will end.

When can you take maternity leave?

The earliest you can start your maternity leave is 11 weeks before your expected week of childbirth or you can choose to work right up to the date the baby is born. Use the due date given on your MAT B1 pregnancy certificate.

The start of your maternity leave might be triggered automatically if:

  • You have a pregnancy-related illness or absence in the last four weeks of your pregnancy. If this happens you must tell your employers that your illness is pregnancy-related and they can force you to start your maternity leave then even if you are off sick for only one day.
  • Your baby is born before the day you were planning to start your leave. Your leave then starts automatically on the day after the day of the birth. You must notify your employer as soon as possible that you have given birth and the date of the birth.

How much leave?

You don’t have to take all your maternity leave, but you must take two weeks – or four weeks if you work in a factory – of compulsory maternity leave after your baby is born.

Parental leave

You may be entitled to 13 weeks’ parental leave at any time after the birth - up until your child’s 5th birthday, although this may be restricted to a maximum of four weeks per year – discuss it with your employer.

Company schemes

Your employers may have their own scheme which could be more generous than the statutory scheme - check your contact of employment or staff handbook. Your employer can't offer you less than the statutory scheme.

Losing your baby

Provided you meet all the other conditions, you can still take maternity leave if your child is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy or born alive at any point of the pregnancy.

Sex discrimination

Your employer must not discriminate against you while you are on maternity leave. If you are being denied your rights you may be able to make a sex discrimination claim before an employment tribunal. Try and talk the problem out with your employer and then go through your employer's internal grievance procedure first though.

Returning to work

You don’t have to give your employers notice that you’re coming back if you take your full leave. If you decide not to return to work at all, give notice in the usual way. Your employer is allowed to contact you while you are on maternity leave though to ask when you’re planning to return.

If you don’t want to take all your leave, you must give at least eight weeks’ notice that you’re returning to work early or if you want to change the date of your return.

When you return to work after OML, you have a right to the same job and the same terms and conditions as if you hadn’t been away. When you go back to work after AML, your employer must offer you the same job or another role with the same terms and conditions.

Maternity pay

You can get statutory maternity pay (SMP) for up to 39 weeks, as long as you:

  • have been employed by the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week your baby is due;
  • earn an average of at least £107 a week (before tax);
  • provide proof of pregnancy;
  • give the right notice.

To claim SMP you must tell your employers at least 28 days before the date you want it to start. You will get 90% of your average weekly earnings (AWE) for the first six weeks, then £135.45 or 90% of your AWE (whichever is lower) for the remaining 33 weeks. Some companies have their own maternity pay scheme – check your employment contract or ask HR.

Maternity allowance

If you can't get SMP, you might get maternity allowance (MA) if you:

  • are employed
  • are self-employed and pay Class 2 National Insurance (NI) contributions or;
  • have a Small Earnings Exception certificate;
  • are not employed but have worked close to or during your pregnancy.

You must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the week your baby was due and earned an average of £30 over any 13 of those 66 weeks.

The standard rate of MA is £135.45 or 90% of your AWE, whichever is less. MA is paid for up to 39 weeks; it is not liable to Income Tax or NI contributions.

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