Maternity leave

If you’re newly pregnant, maternity leave may seem a long way off but it’s good to get this organised as soon as you can.

All pregnant employees are entitled to take maternity leave of up to one year in total. Although you don’t have to take the full 52 weeks’ leave, you must take a minimum of two weeks’ leave after your baby is born, or four weeks’ leave if you work in a factory. 

Check that your employer knows when you intend to start your maternity leave – you need to give them this information at least 15 weeks before the week in which your baby is due.

What is Maternity Leave?

All pregnant employees are entitled to maternity leave, which lasts for 52 weeks.

Maternity leave is considered a normal working period for issues such as promotion, seniority and length of service. You should also continue to receive contractual benefits, such as pay rises (on your return to work), bonus payments, pension rights, holiday entitlement, private health schemes and the use of a company car.

You are entitled to resume the same job when you return to work after maternity leave.

If you don’t intend to take the full 52 weeks of maternity leave – if you want to return when your Statutory Maternity Pay finishes, for example – you must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice.

During leave, you are still entitled to your contractual rights and to return to your original job, unless this is not reasonably possible – if the role no longer exists, for instance. In this case, though, your employer must offer you suitable alternative work with at least the same terms and conditions as your original job.

When do I need to let my employer know my plans?

By law, you must tell your employer about your pregnancy, the date your baby is due and the date you intend to start maternity leave at least 15 weeks before your baby is due.  

If this isn’t possible – for example, if you didn’t realise you were pregnant – you must tell your employer as soon as you can.

You don’t need to give this notice in writing, but your employer can request it. Your employer can also request a copy of your maternity certificate (form MAT B1), which you will be given after 21 weeks of pregnancy.

Your employer should then write to you within 28 days, telling you the date your maternity leave will end, based on the dates you have given.

You are entitled to change your mind about your leaving date and/or your date for returning to work if you give your employer eight weeks’ notice in writing.  Your employer can’t ask or pressurise you to confirm whether you intend to return to work after your maternity leave.

When can I start my maternity leave?

In normal circumstances, the earliest your maternity leave can start is 11 weeks before the date your baby is due.

If your baby is premature, or there is another pregnancy-related reason for you to be off work, you may need to start your maternity leave before this.

If your baby arrives early, your maternity leave will start the day after the birth. If you are off work with a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before your baby is due, your maternity leave will begin automatically at this point. If your illness is not pregnancy-related, you can continue to work as usual

What happens if the baby dies?

Sadly, some pregnancies end with the death of the baby. You will still qualify for maternity leave if your baby is stillborn from 24 weeks of pregnancy or if your baby is born alive at any point.

Things to think about

When you’re planning for your maternity leave, here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you have a long, tiring commute? If so, you may want to start your maternity leave earlier than you would if you live close to your work.
  • Is your job physically demanding? If it is, this may be a factor in your decision about when to stop.
  • Are you expecting more than one baby? You are likely to be more tired and need to stop work earlier than if you were having a single baby.
  • Do you have any special health needs? If so, you may need to start maternity leave as early as possible.

Handing over my workload – what do I need to do?

It’s important that whoever takes on your work knows what to do and that you ensure they have all the information they need by the end of the handover period.

If someone from outside your workplace is coming in specifically to replace you while you’re on maternity leave, you may be asked to get involved in the recruitment process to ensure the right person is selected.

If you don’t get the chance to do a proper handover – for example if your baby arrives early or there isn’t enough time between you leaving and your replacement arriving – try to leave your workload organised and notes for whoever will take over.

Leave the names and contact details of your key work contacts, and information on where to find all the relevant files and information your replacement will need.

Ensure that your manager is fully up to date with your workload, especially if you tend to keep a lot of information in your head! This is important so that your employer knows exactly what needs to be covered.

What are keeping-in-touch (KIT) days?

If you and your employer agree, you can do up to ten days’ work during your maternity leave. These are called ‘keeping-in-touch’ (KIT) days and can be used to do your usual job, for training or to attend events.

KIT days are optional and you are under no obligation to attend them. It’s worth bearing in mind that each time you do attend, you use up one of your ten days. So if you attend a two-hour training course, this will use up a full KIT day from your allowance.

KIT days don’t affect your maternity leave or your Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). You and your employer should agree beforehand how you will be paid for KIT days.

KIT days are a good way for you to stay in touch while you’re on maternity leave and can also be helpful in preparing to return to work. They can be taken at any time during your maternity leave apart from the compulsory minimum leave periods.

What if I’m ill during my maternity leave?

You’re not entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while you are on maternity leave. If you are unable to return to work at the end of your leave because of illness, your normal contractual arrangements apply, so tell your employer just as you usually would.

What if I get pregnant again during my maternity leave?

If this happens, you are entitled to another period of leave with the same terms and conditions as if you had become pregnant for the first time.

You will also be entitled to return to your original job at the end of the second period of maternity leave or, if that’s not possible, to another suitable job if one is available, with at least the same terms and conditions.