A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Maternity Leave

What is maternity leave?

If you’re an employee, you can take up to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave.

If you give your employer the correct notice, you can take Statutory Maternity Leave no matter:

  • how long you’ve been with your employer
  • how many hours you work
  • how much you’re paid

Your employment rights are protected while on Statutory Maternity Leave, but your employer is allowed to contact you to ask when you’re planning to return.

Compulsory maternity leave

You don’t have to take all of your Statutory Maternity Leave – but you must take 2 weeks of ‘compulsory’ maternity leave after your baby is born. If you work in a factory you must take 4 weeks.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL)

Mothers of babies due on or after 5th April 2015 can choose to convert the remainder of their maternity leave – after the compulsory period – into Shared Parental Leave and share it with their partner.

How long do I get for maternity leave?

You have the right to:

  • 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave
  • 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave

Your right to return to work

Your right to go back to the same job depends on when you return. If you return after:

  • the first 26 weeks you have a right to the same job with the same terms and conditions
  • the last 26 weeks your employer must offer you the same job or another role with the same terms and conditions

If you return to work early, including after the first 26 weeks, you must give your employer 8 weeks’ notice.

Am I eligible for maternity leave?

You will qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave if you’re an employee (and not a ‘worker’).

Examples of how to check if you’re an employee include if you:

  • have to work a minimum number of hours
  • have tax and National Insurance deducted from your wages
  • can join your employer’s pension scheme
  • get holiday pay

If you’re unsure of your employment status, speak to your employer or check your employment status.

How do I claim maternity leave?

You must tell your employer you want to take Statutory Maternity Leave at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby is due.

Tell them:

  • when the baby is due
  • when you want to start your maternity leave – you can change the date later, if you give at least 28 days’ notice

Your employer might ask for:

  • notice in writing
  • a copy of the maternity certificate (form MAT B1) – a doctor or midwife will give you a copy

You will only be given the maternity certificate after you’ve been pregnant for 21 weeks.

What your employer must do

Your employer must write to you within 28 days of you giving them notice:

  • confirming your Statutory Maternity Leave
  • giving you the date your Statutory Maternity Leave will end

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and further information

You may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (click here for the latest rates).

Company maternity leave schemes

Your employer may have their own scheme with more maternity pay or leave. They can’t offer you less than what you get for Statutory Maternity Leave. You’re entitled to have Statutory Maternity Leave and pay instead of what your company offers if this suits you better and you’re eligible.

If you lose your baby

You can still take your Statutory Maternity Leave if your child is either:

  • stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy
  • born alive at any point of the pregnancy

If you become pregnant again

If you become pregnant again during Statutory Maternity Leave, you have the right to take further Statutory Maternity Leave for your next child.