Maternity Leave

  • Leave and Absence
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss what maternity leave is, how long it lasts for, and how much pay an employee must receive.

As an employer, there’ll be times when you have expectant mothers in your workforce. As soon as you’re aware of this, you need to think about their maternity leave and pay.

It’s important this is managed correctly. Failure to do so could lead to claims being raised against you at an employment tribunal. Consequently, you might be required to pay financial compensation.

In this guide, we'll discuss what maternity leave is, how long it lasts for, and how much pay an employee must receive.

What is statutory maternity leave?

Statutory maternity leave is the legal amount of leave an employee is entitled to following the birth of their baby.

Employees can take up to a year of leave, no matter how long they've been employed.

When does the maternity leave period start?

The earliest an employee can start their paid maternity leave is the 11th week before the due date. If the baby is born before this date, their leave starts the day after.

Your employees don't have to take the full 52-week entitlement, but they must take at least two weeks (four weeks for factory workers) away from work after the birth. It’s a criminal offence to have an employee working during compulsory maternity leave.

Can an employee change the dates of their maternity leave?

Yes, an employee can change the date of when they'd like their maternity leave to start. However, they must provide you with enough notice.

At least 28 days' notice before the date an employee intends to start their leave, or 28 days' notice before the new date (whichever is earlier) must be given to change the start date. But a shorter period of notice can be given if 28 days is not reasonably practicable.

Different parts of maternity leave

Maternity leave is made up of two different parts, each with its own elements. Familiarise yourself with both types so you know what to provide your employees with.

Let's discuss both in more detail:

Ordinary maternity leave

Ordinary maternity leave is the first or 26 weeks.

If the employee returns to work during this period, they have the right to return to the same job that they had before starting maternity leave.

Additional maternity leave

Additional maternity leave is the second 28 weeks of the leave. This follows immediately after the end of ordinary maternity leave, and lasts a further 26 weeks. This gives a total entitlement of 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave.

If an employee takes any period of additional maternity leave for a reason other than redundancy, they're entitled to return to a different job that is both suitable for them and appropriate. This is only allowed where it isn't reasonably practicable for you to permit their return to the same role.  

The terms and conditions must not be less favourable than they would have been had they not been absent.

Can all employees take maternity leave?

Yes, all pregnant employees are entitled to maternity leave. It doesn't matter if they work full-time, part-time, or are agency workers.

It also doesn't matter how long they've been employed by your company.

What employment rights does someone on maternity leave have?

Whilst on maternity leave, employees are still entitled to all their employment rights as if they're still working – for example, accrual of annual leave. Other examples include:

In essence, you should treat any employees on maternity leave as if you still employ them (except for the terms regarding remuneration). Not doing so is against employment law and may lead to claims being raised against you.

What is Statutory Maternity Pay?

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is the legal minimum you must pay your eligible employees whilst they're on maternity leave.

Your employees are eligible to receive SMP if the following conditions are met:

  • Their average weekly earnings during the eight-week period - ending with the 15th week before the baby is due - are £123.
  • They've worked for you for 26 weeks, when they reach the 15th week before the baby is due.

How much is maternity pay?

SSP is paid up for 39 weeks, and the amount they'll receive is:

  • 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks.
  • £184.03 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

To receive Statutory Maternity Pay, the employee must provide proof of the pregnancy. This can be done by:

  • Their MATB1 certificate.
  • A letter from their doctor or midwife.

What is enhanced maternity pay?

Also known as contractual maternity pay, or occupational maternity pay - enhanced maternity pay is more than the statutory amount an employee will receive. Employers typically provide this as an added employee benefit.

However if a staff member doesn't return to work after maternity leave, they may have to repay the amount they received over statutory maternity pay.

This depends on the terms of the scheme provided by the employer.

What is maternity allowance?

An employee may be able to claim maternity allowance if they don't qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay. This may be because they've recently stopped working or have taken part in unpaid work.

Maternity allowance is an option for self-employed people. Because they don't receive Statutory Maternity Pay, they may be entitled to receive an allowance.

How much will depend on the National Insurance Contributions they've made in the 66 weeks before their baby is due.

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave is another form of leave an employee can take following the birth of a child. It provides them with the flexibility to decide when they want to return to work, as well as building the family bond in the early stages of the baby's birth.

The leave and pay can be shared between the parents after the first two weeks' of the baby being born. Up to 50 weeks of leave, and 37 weeks of pay can be shared between both parents.

It can be taken in one block, or different ones separated by periods of work. It can also be taken at the same time, so both parents can spend time with their newborn or adopted child.

An employee returning from maternity leave

You need to be aware of how you can help an employee who is returning to work after maternity leave.

Before they go on leave, they should inform you of how long they'll be away and the expected date of their return.

If they want to return to work earlier or later than their expected week, they must provide you with eight week's notice.

Get expert advice on maternity leave from Peninsula UK

When running a business, there may be times when an employee is pregnant. If this is the case in your company, you need to start preparing for when they start maternity leave.

It's important you understand your employee's entitlements when it comes to maternity leave, as not providing it correctly is against employment law. This could lead to claims being raised against you to a tribunal.

As an employer, there will be times when you have expectant mothers as part of your workforce. And as soon as you’re aware, you need to start thinking about their maternity leave and pay.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, to help you manage maternity leave in your company. Contact us today on 0800 0282 420.


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