Everything You Need to Know About Maternity Leave

by Your Baby Club

If you’re in employment, once you find out you’re pregnant you’ll likely start thinking about your finances, when you’ll tell your employers, and when you want to start and end your maternity leave. We’ve teamed up with a specialist employment solicitor to answer all your common questions.

When Should I Tell My Employer?

Many women want to wait to tell anyone until they get their anomaly scan out of the way and feel more secure in their pregnancy (at 12-weeks). When you decide to tell your employer, is completely up to you.

If you are in a job that poses an extra risk to your baby, then you should tell your employer as soon as possible, so that they can do a risk assessment and make sure you are both safe. Sometimes this might mean moving you to a different role temporarily.

You might even be suffering from horrendous sickness very early on and need time off or some understanding from your employer, so it is best to tell them as it gives you some legal protection.

If you want to take maternity leave, you need to tell your employer that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks (around week 25) before the week your baby is due, as well as when you want your leave to start.

You should always notify them in writing and keep a copy.

Can I Get Time Off for Antenatal Appointments?

Yes, you are entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments, and you will need to request each occasion from your employer, showing proof if you are asked.

You can take as many as you need, as recommended by your midwife, GP, or consultant. This can include parenting classes and alternative therapies. If your employer refuses a particular request, they must have a good reason and act reasonably.

If you can book any appointments outside of working time, that is usually helpful, but it is not always possible.

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How Much Maternity Leave Can I Take?

You can take any period from 2 weeks up to 12 months (for factory workers the minimum is 4 weeks). You can start your maternity leave as early as 11 weeks before your due date if you wish, It will start early if your baby comes early, or if you are off sick with a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before your due date.

Your holiday continues to accrue while you are on leave, so lots of women tag their holiday on either at the start or end of maternity leave which gives you a few more weeks with your baby before you go back (paid at full rate).

You should give your employer at least 4 weeks’ notice if you wish to change the date you start your maternity leave if you can.

If you want to share some of your maternity leave with your partner, you can work out your eligibility online for what's called 'shared parental leave'.

What Pay Will I Be Entitled To?

This depends on your length of service. You may be entitled to statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance, or an enhanced rate of maternity pay set out in your employment contract or staff handbook.

There's a handy calculator online to help you work out what leave and pay you can get. You will be taxed at the appropriate rate and your pay should be set out on payslips as usual.

It is always worth asking your HR department for details of any enhanced contractual maternity pay that you might be entitled to.

You can contact Citizens Advice for help calculating pay and any top-up benefits you might be able to claim (e.g., child benefit).

If you are using shared parental leave, when you swap over with your partner, it is called 'shared parental pay', but check your eligibility first to figure out what works best for your family. You can apply online and you should both give your employers at least 8 weeks' notice.

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What Are My Rights While I Am Off?

You should get the same treatment from your employer (except for pay) as you did while you were at work. For example, your employer should carry on paying into your pension while you receive maternity pay, you should continue accruing holidays (including bank holidays) and you are entitled to the same pay reviews and bonuses (pro rata if based on time/work done).

Some employers find it easy to forget about you while you are on maternity leave, on an 'out of sight, out of mind' basis. Whilst you may not want to be bothered too much with work-related contact when looking after a young baby, you probably don’t want to be completely out of the loop either. It is a good idea to agree with your employer before you go on leave as to how much contact you would like. For example, will you be logging into your work email account and monitoring communications and how often, or do you want to only be emailed important staff news on your private email?

You can have up to 10 'keeping in touch' days (known as KIT days), where you get full pay, even if you do less than a whole day’s work each time. This can take different forms, including attending training, working from home, going into the workplace, and attending meetings. You need to arrange these with your employer.

If you are sharing parental leave with your partner, you can each work up to 20 days while you are on leave. These are called 'SPLIT' days and are on top of the 10 KIT days you can take.

You have special legal protection from being treated unfairly and discriminated against while you are pregnant and while you are on maternity leave. You should not be treated unfavourably just because you are pregnant or on leave or have just had a baby.

If you think you have been treated badly, then first, talk to your manager or HR about it and see if they will put it right. If not, then you can write to them with your complaints (this is called a 'grievance') and they should investigate, hold a meeting with you and provide you with a formal response. You can appeal the outcome if you are not happy with it.

If you are in any doubt, or the issue is not resolved, then speak to your union rep (if you are a member), call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100, or get advice from a specialist employment law solicitor.

Can I Be Made Redundant While I’m on Maternity Leave?

Yes, but you also have extra preferential rights to be considered for any available jobs over and above those, not on maternity leave - 'first dibs' if you like.

Your employer must consult with you about a potential redundancy situation to the same extent as they need to with your colleagues. Sometimes they forget to include women on maternity leave in a consultation process, and this is discrimination. It is also discrimination if they choose you to be made redundant just because you are pregnant, on maternity leave, or have just had a baby. If you think this has happened, get some legal advice straight away.

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What if I Wish to Return Part-Time or Not at All?

You might not feel comfortable leaving your baby for long periods, or may not be able to find good childcare, especially if you work full time. Many women want some level of flexibility or part-time working once their maternity leave ends. It might be to fit in with childcare, to facilitate ongoing breastfeeding, or just because your priorities have changed. If this is the case, then you need to talk to your employer. You can do this informally or you can make a formal statutory flexible working request if you are eligible. There are some good tips online about how to see if you are entitled, and how to do it.

If your employer agrees to change your working hours or pattern, then they often do so on a temporary basis to see how it works out, or they might make it permanent. You shouldn’t be treated less favourably just because you work part-time. Your pay, benefits, pension, and holiday should then be calculated pro-rata.

If you find that your request is refused, depending on the circumstances, this might be discriminatory. You are then faced with the binary choice of returning to a job on full-time hours or leaving the job altogether. Your relationship with your employer may also have broken down because of this. You should get legal advice about your rights in this situation, as you may be entitled to claim compensation if you have been discriminated against and/or lost your job because of unfair and unlawful treatment.


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Your Baby Club

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