What is Statutory Maternity Leave?

Statutory maternity leave is based on government legislation that provides assistance to mothers during the first year of their baby’s life.

Maternity leave is an important support mechanism to help women combine both work and being a mother.

In most cases if you qualify for maternity leave you can be entitled to statutory maternity pay which is financial support given to you by your employer but funded by the government.

Maternity leave is made of two parts called primary maternity leave and extended maternity leave.

  1. Primary maternity leave is the initial phase spanning the first six months, equivalent to 26 weeks.
  2. Extended maternity leave is the second part which allows for a further six months maternity leave.

Who is eligible for maternity leave?

If you are employed and expecting a baby you have the right to take maternity leave regardless of your length of service with your employer.

To be eligible for maternity leave you must be legally classed as an employed worker under PAYE which will cover most people who aren’t self employed including agency and casual workers.

Statutory maternity leave applies to both full and part time employees and the number of hours you work does not effect your eligibility.

Maternity leave isn’t applicable to the partners of expecting mothers but statutory paternity leave might be.

Calculating maternity leave

Everyone by law has to take a minimum of two weeks maternity leave following the birth of a child which increases to a compulsory four week period if you work in a factory.

The maximum amount of maternity leave you can take is for 12 months which cannot be exceeded.

To calculate your maternity leave and check your maternity pay entitlement you can use the online .GOV tool.

Ordinary maternity leave:

If you have taken 26 weeks or less (known as ordinary maternity leave) you are entitled to resume your previous position after ordinary maternity leave.

Additional maternity leave:

If you have taken more than 26 weeks which is referred to as ‘additional maternity leave’ you still retain the right to return to your job under the same conditions as before your absence but if this is not feasible (due to significant organisational changes for example) you may be offered a similar role.

Can you return to work early from maternity leave?

When you initially request maternity leave your employer will provide you with a designated date for your return to work.

By default your employer will assume that you will be away for a year unless you tell them otherwise.

If you want to change your return to work date you can by telling your employer in writing giving the correct amount of notice:

  • If you wish to conclude your leave earlier, notify your employer at least 8 weeks prior to your revised end date.
  • If you wish to extend your leave, notify your employer at least 8 weeks prior to your original end date.

You have the flexibility to alter the dates of your maternity leave, provided that you give your employer sufficient advance notice:

  • If you wish to commence your leave earlier than planned, make sure to inform your employer at least 4 weeks prior to your desired new start date.
  • If you prefer to commence your leave later than originally intended, notify your employer at least 4 weeks prior to your initial start date.
  • If you wish to conclude your leave earlier than initially planned, inform your employer at least 8 weeks prior to your desired new end date.
  • If you prefer to extend your leave beyond the initially planned end date, notify your employer at least 8 weeks prior to your original end date.

When can I claim maternity leave?

You have the flexibility to commence your maternity leave at any point within the 11 weeks leading up to your expected delivery date.

It’s important to note that your maternity leave may begin earlier than the date you select under certain circumstances including:

  • If your baby arrives prematurely.
  • If you are unable to work due to a pregnancy related illness within the four weeks preceding your due date.

How do I claim maternity leave?

At least 15 weeks prior to the week when your baby is due it is important to inform your employer of the following:

  • Your pregnancy.
  • The expected due date of your baby.
  • Your intention to take maternity leave.
  • The desired start and end dates of your maternity leave (note that these dates can be modified later on).

It is best to communicate this information in writing and keep a copy for your own records.

Your employer should provide confirmation of the end date for your maternity leave.

If they fail to do so it is recommended to inquire about it in order to ensure that both parties are on the same page.

Maternity leave for fathers

Maternity leave for fathers is different and is called statutory paternity leave.

To qualify you must be classed as an employee and if you do you are usually entitled to either one or two weeks of statutory paternity pay.

Statutory paternity pay is taxable and paid to you by your employer who you must maintain employment with until the birth of your child.

What is statutory maternity pay?

Statutory maternity pay is taxable financial support funded by the government and paid by employers.

If you qualify for maternity leave you will generally be entitled to claim maternity pay which will be paid in the same way as your salary.

Unlike maternity leave (which is 12 months) you can only qualify for a maximum of 39 weeks of maternity pay.

Our guide to statutory maternity pay gives you more information on the eligibility criteria for maternity pay and how to claim maternity pay from your employer.

Unfair dismissal due to pregnancy

Under the law, you are protected from unfair treatment and termination if it is due to your pregnancy or maternity, regardless of the duration of your employment.

If you believe that you are being treated unfairly because of your pregnancy or maternity, it is important to address the issue with your employer.

If you are terminated while pregnant or on maternity leave, your employer is obligated to provide a written explanation for the dismissal.

If your dismissal can be attributed to your pregnancy or maternity, you have the right to file a claim with an employment tribunal for both unfair dismissal and discrimination.


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