What is the law on maternity leave?

By Robert Half 30th August 2019

Do you know what to expect when you’re expecting? Before starting your maternity leave, it’s worth taking a minute to familiarise yourself with maternity law, so you know exactly what you’re entitled to in terms of maternity employment rights. This includes your pay and leave period, the employee rights you’ll retain, and how much job protection you can expect.

Who’s eligible for statutory maternity leave?

In the UK, maternity leave law states that a pregnant employee qualifies for maternity leave no matter how long they have been with their current employer, their salary or the hours they work. For Statutory Maternity Pay or SMP the employee must make sure they give proof of their pregnancy and the correct notice to their employer as well as earning on average £118 per week with an employment contract that has been continuously active for at least 26 weeks. 

In order to check your maternity employment rights to see what you’re entitled to, you can take a short survey on the Gov.uk website to find out.  

When does statutory maternity leave start and how long is it?

Maternity leave is 52 weeks, which is split into ‘ordinary’ leave (first 26 weeks) and ‘additional’ leave (final 26 weeks). 

If you’re eligible for maternity leave, you can take it as early as 11 weeks before the week of your due date. If your baby arrives earlier than expected, you can start your leave the day after birth. Statutory maternity leave is relatively flexible — you can take a maximum of 52 weeks or a minimum of 2 weeks. You do not have to take the full 52 weeks either, your leave depends on you and your new baby and what works for you.

Did you know: Couples also have the option to split time off between them as ‘shared parental leave’. This can be divided into separate blocks, which can be taken over 50 weeks and you can even arrange to alternate your leave with your partner every few weeks if you wanted. New laws on shared parental leave came into place in 2015

To start your leave, you’ll need to tell your employer when your due date is and give your notice 15 weeks beforehand. You should also tell them when you’d like to start it — you can change it with 28 days’ notice if you need to. None of this needs to be in writing unless your employer specifically asks for it.

Maternity pay

The amount of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you get while on leave will vary depending on the length of time you take off and the maternity employment rights stipulated by the government. You can even check the pay you’re entitled to when you go on maternity leave or choose shared parental leave with this calculator.

During the first six weeks, you’ll be entitled to 90% of your average weekly earnings, pre-tax. During the next 33 weeks of leave, you’ll get whichever is lower: 90% of your average weekly earnings or £148.68. Your employer isn’t obligated to provide maternity pay for the final 13 weeks of leave — definitely something worth noting if you’re planning to take your full maternity leave.

To arrange your SMP, maternity law states that you’ll need to provide proof of pregnancy, such as a doctor’s letter or MATB1 maternity certificate. Both of which can be issued 20 weeks before your due date. Statutory Maternity Pay can start as early as the 11th week before your baby is due and the latest is the day after the baby is born. You can choose the date when you want to start getting your SMP if you continue to be employed into the 11 weeks before the week your baby is due.

Top tip: Some companies offer higher maternity pay as part of their remuneration package. If you’re planning to start a family in the future, this may be something to consider negotiating. 

What are your maternity employment rights?

According to UK law, your employee rights are protected while you’re away on maternity leave; you can still get pay rises and can still accrue your unused holiday days. You’re protected from unfair dismissal, receive paid holiday and other job benefits that you enjoyed before. You may have to check the pension payment policy if you are signed up to pension payments in your employment contract.

Your maternity employment rights allow you to return to your original job role within the ‘ordinary leave’ period. This isn’t necessarily true for employees who choose to take both ordinary and additional leave (or the full 52 weeks’ maternity leave) — they aren’t guaranteed their original position back but must be provided with a similar job which offers the same conditions and pay.

Your employer can’t refuse you maternity leave or change how much leave you take. They also need to continue paying your SMP even if they cease trading while you’re away, so you can rest assured that you’re covered. You can find out more about maternity law or maternity employment rights on the Gov.uk website.

Looking for a job with increased maternity allowance?

Are you looking for career guidance or help finding a more flexible job opportunity? Need maternity cover? Get in touch with the team at Robert Half today. 

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