Maternity Leave Rights – Your Entitlements & UK Law

Maternity leave rights are protected under UK law to ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly in the workplace. The law protects pregnant women against unfair dismissal and treatment by employers. Our guide outlines your rights and entitlements during maternity leave, and upon your return to work.

Pregnant woman in business attire preparing for maternity leave

Maternity Leave & Pay Rights

The law offers pregnant women and mothers on maternity leave from work rights and protections.

The main rights you have as an expectant mother are:-

  • Up to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave.
  • Statutory maternity pay if your employment began a minimum of 26 weeks prior to the 15th week before your due date.
  • During maternity leave your contracted terms of employment are protected.
  • The accural of holiday pay and pension payments will continue during your leave.
  • When you return to work at the end of maternity leave, you have the right to return to your role. A suitable alternative should be offered if this is not possible.
  • If redundancies are being made, you must be offered a suitable alternative role if one is available.

All of these protections are extended from the first day of employment. It does not matter if you are pregnant in a probationary period, these rights are statutory.

Telling Your Employer You Are Pregnant

When your pregnancy is confirmed and you have completed your 12-week scan, consider informing your employer of your situation as soon as possible. It is, of course, going to be your decision when you share your information.

There are a number of factors to consider:-

  • Your employer cannot be found discriminatory in any way regarding your pregnancy if you have not told them.
  • You will be able to utilise the advantages that you’re entitled to.
  • You are required by law to tell you employer in a timely fashion so that maternity cover and relevant pay can be arranged.
  • The latest you can let your employer know is at 25 weeks pregnant.

Being pregnant at work can be physically and mentally challenging. If you let your employer know, they will be able to offer support.

You will also be able to ask for time off to attend medical appointments related to your pregnancy. These requests can’t be refused.

Attending Medical Appointments in Work Time

Employers should allow a pregnant employee to able to attend any necessary medical appointment within work time if it is connected to their pregnancy.

As such, you may attend antenatal classes and any recommended exercise or relaxation classes in work time.

You may also be excused from any activities that make you feel uncomfortable, either physically or emotionally.

Statutory Maternity Pay

In the UK, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is available to the majority of working women. This enables them to have a child without any form of discrimination in the workplace.

Employment law is very clear in the case of pregnancy at work and maternity leave. Employers are unable to penalise a pregnant member of staff for any issue connected with their pregnancy.

Maternity Leave Pay Entitlements

You get up to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay. Current statutory maternity leave is for up to 52 weeks, with the first 39 weeks paid by your employer.

For the first six weeks of maternity leave you will receive a minimum of 90% of your average earnings. After this you can get up to £151.97 for the remaining 33 weeks of the 39 paid weeks.

These figures government SMP regulations and your employer may have their own maternity pay scheme.

Maternity Pay Schemes

Larger companies are likely to have their own maternity pay scheme. Check either with your union or your HR department as soon as you can to understand what benefits and advice you have access to.

Many employers will provide more than the minimum payment. If your workplace doesn’t their own maternity pay scheme, you will need to understand what your maternity pay rights are.

There can be misunderstandings round maternity leave pay entitlements, so it’s helpful if you familiarise yourself with the law on maternity pay.

How are Maternity Leave Entitlements Paid?

You will be paid in the same way as when you were working when you start your maternity leave. So if your salary is paid once a month directly into your bank account, this will continue.

You will still pay tax and national insurance in the same way.

If you have chosen to take the full 52 weeks maternity leave, your employer may offer additional payment for the additional 13 weeks following SMP. It is currently more common for this period to be unpaid, so this may be something you need to plan for.

Maternity Allowance

If you are not in full time work when you become pregnant, you may still be entitled to some SMP.

This will depend on whether you fulfil certain criteria.

For example, you can get Maternity Allowance if you are self-employed and have paid Class 2 contributions.

You will also qualify if you have worked at least 26 of the 66 weeks before your baby is due, with an average weekly earning of at least £30 for at least 13 of those weeks.

Further Reading

  • Fertility Leave – our guide looks at getting time off for IVF, and when maternity rights kick in during the process.

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