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Maternity leave and pay

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 working 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.
  • Since 2 April 2023 statutory maternity pay (SMP) is £172.48 (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.
  • Employees may be eligible to convert some of their maternity leave into shared parental leave, that can be taken either by the mother or their partner, on a more flexible basis than has been the case (see 'In-depth - Returning to work' and section on 'Shared parental leave').

Recent Developments

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 becomes law

On 24 May, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) became law. As this will require new statutory payments to be made, it is unlikely that it will be implemented before October 2024. 

This law gives parents of babies who need an extended stay in hospital in the first 28 days of their life leave in addition to existing family friendly leave entitlements, the specifics of which will be determined by regulations currently being created by the government.


New law extends redundancy protection to new parents and pregnant employees

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 became law on 24 May 2023. 

Whilst it won't come into effect until regulations have been published on it, which is likely to be around April 2024, once they are in place this law will have the following impact: 

  • Employers will be required to offer pregnant employees, and those who have come back from maternity, adoption and shared parental leave until 18 months after the birth/adoption, a suitable alternative vacancy during a redundancy exercise.
  • It will be unfair dismissal and discrimination if these employees are not favoured above all others in the redundancy exercise.
New SMP rate proposed

30 November 2023

In November 2023, the Government proposed to increase key statutory rates from April 2024. Statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental and parental bereavement pay are all set to increase from £172.48 to £184.03 per week from April 2024. These increases remain proposals for now; confirmation is awaited. Whilst the Government could amend the proposals, that is highly unlikely.