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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 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').
Consultation considering extension to redundancy protection

In January 2019, the government released a consultation seeking views on the extension to redundancy protection for pregnant employees and those who have returned to work after their maternity leave period. The consultation is asking whether redundancy protection should start from the date the employee informs their employer, in writing, that they are pregnant. It is also asking whether protection finishing six months after the employee returns to work is sufficient, to ensure those who are newly returned to work are not losing the protection they were afforded whilst on maternity leave. The consultation closes on 5 April 2019 and the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations (1999) may be subsequently amended.