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Maternity leave and pay

Overview
All pregnant employees have the right to take up to 52 weeks' maternity leave, regardless of their length of service. They may also qualify for up to 39 weeks' statutory maternity pay, or maternity allowance, if they do not qualify for statutory maternity pay. An employee has the right to return to work during, or at the end of, ordinary maternity leave, to the same job on the same terms and conditions as if she had not been absent.
 
Pregnant employees have the right to time off to attend ante-natal appointments. Employers are under particular health and safety obligations in respect of pregnant employees and those who have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding.

Key points

  • All pregnant employees are entitled to 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave (OML) and 26 weeks' additional maternity leave (AML), regardless of their length of service.
  • An employee is prohibited from working in the two weeks (four weeks if she works in a factory) immediately following the birth of a child.
  • The employment contract continues as normal during maternity leave, with the exception of pay.
  • Employees may qualify for up to 39 weeks' statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. Employers may also provide a period of enhanced maternity pay.
  • From the 7 April 2019 the statutory maternity pay rate has increased to £148.68 a week (see our ‘Statutory rates’ page for historic rates).
  • Employees may agree to do up to 10 days' work - known as 'Keeping in touch' (KIT) days - during the maternity leave period without losing statutory maternity pay (SMP) or triggering the end of maternity leave.
  • After additional maternity leave, an employee is entitled to return to either the same job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to another suitable job, on terms and conditions that are no less favourable to her than those that applied previously.
  • Pregnant employees and those who are on maternity leave have significant employment protections. They are entitled not to be subjected to a detriment or to be dismissed because they are pregnant or because they have taken, or plan to take, maternity leave.
  • Pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and treating someone unfavourably because of pregnancy or maternity is discrimination.
  • Women may be eligible to convert some of their maternity leave into shared parental leave, that can be taken either by the woman or her partner, on a more flexible basis than has been the case (see 'In-depth - Returning to work' and section on 'Shared parental leave').
Government consultation examining family-friendly leave entitlements

A government consultation, released in July 2019, is looking at whether leave entitlements need amending to ensure these reflect modern childcare arrangements and provide equality to parents.

The consultation is considering:

  • whether statutory paternity leave needs changing
  • whether any improvements to shared parental leave could be introduced
  • the introduction of an entitlement to one week's Neonatal Leave and Pay for each week a premature or sick baby is in neonatal care, ensuring the parent can be with the baby once they are released from hospital even though their some of their maternity leave entitlement will already have been used.

This consultation is running alongside the government examining whether employers should be required to publish their family-friendly leave and pay policies, as well as their flexible working policies.

Protection against redundancy to be extended for new parents

Following a consultation, the government has confirmed that redundancy protection for new parents will be extended. Currently, those on maternity leave who are at risk of redundancy must be offered suitable alternative roles in advance of others. This protection ends once the employee returns to work.

Furture changes will mean that this protection starts from the date the employee informs her employers that she is pregnant, whether verbally or in writing, and will last for a further six month period once the employee returns to work.

The extended protection will also be available to those on adoption leave and shared parental leave, although further guidance will be released on how this works due to the differences in the shared parental leave scheme.

The date these changes take effect has not yet been confirmed. More information can be found in our news article.