How much maternity leave are mothers entitled to, and how is it paid? We answer these questions and more below.
In the UK, all female employees are entitled to statutory maternity leave, but how long you take and how much you get paid will depend on your circumstances. Here are the answers to your most frequently asked questions about maternity leave.
How soon can I leave work?
Your maternity leave can start any time after the 11th week before your baby is due (in other words, when you are 29 weeks pregnant or more). You should tell your employer in writing when you intend to start your maternity leave. You need to give them at least 15 weeks’ notice of your due date.
Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks.
They may ask for a copy of your maternity certificate (which confirms your due date). Your doctor or midwife will give this to you.
Be aware that if you’re off work ill in the few weeks leading up to the birth, your leave will be triggered automatically.
How much maternity leave am I entitled to?
Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks.
All employed pregnant women qualify for this - no matter how long they’ve been with their company.
Statutory maternity leave is split into two parts: the first 26 weeks is ordinary maternity leave (OML), while the second 26 weeks is additional maternity leave (AML).
If you return to work during the first 26 weeks (OML) you have the right to return to exactly the same job.
If you return to work during AML (or after it ends), you still have the right to return to the same job - but, if this is not reasonably practical, your employer can offer you an alternative job (though it must have similar terms and conditions to your previous job).
How much will I get paid while on maternity leave?
To qualify for statutory maternity pay, you need to have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. (This is approximately the 26th week of pregnancy). So you need to have started the job before you got pregnant to receive statutory maternity pay.
Statutory maternity pay lasts for 39 weeks – around nine months. The remainder of your maternity leave (13 weeks, if you take the full year) is unpaid.
Statutory maternity pay lasts for 39 weeks
For the first six weeks, you’ll be paid 90% of your average gross weekly earnings.
Then, for the remaining 33 weeks, you’ll get £135.45 per week or 90% of your average gross weekly earnings – whichever is lower.
Some employers offer more so check out the employee benefits at your workplace.
I work part-time/am self-employed. Can I still get maternity pay?
Part-time workers also receive full statutory maternity pay, provided they earn £107 or more a week (before tax) in their job. If they don't, they may be entitled to a Maternity Allowance instead.
The Maternity Allowance pays a standard weekly rate of £135.45, or 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax (whichever is smaller) and is paid for a maximum period of 39 weeks.
If you are self-employed you are not entitled to statutory maternity pay, but are eligible for a Maternity Allowance.
For more details on your entitlement to maternity pay and allowances - including a breakdown of the rights of full-time, part-time, self-employed and unemployed mums-to-be - see our article Am I entitled to maternity pay?
What are my rights while I’m on leave?
You are still an employee and should get the same benefits and rights as before. This includes things like being able to keep a company car or phone. It also makes it illegal for you to be made redundant or overlooked for a promotion simply because of your pregnancy.
One thing that will change is your salary, which will be replaced by statutory maternity pay - though some employers agree to top up statutory maternity pay, so pregnant employees effectively have the same salary. Check your contract or with human resources if in doubt.
You still get your company’s pension contributions, and you can continue to receive childcare vouchers.
Your employer is not allowed to deduct the cost of childcare vouchers from your maternity pay though – so you can get them for free while you are on leave, save them up and use them on your return to work.
You get holiday while on maternity leave, just the same as if you were at work. You can use your holiday days (at full pay) at the end of your maternity leave before returning to work if you wish.
Your employer can also pay you for up to 10 ‘keeping in touch days’ while you’re on maternity leave.
Once you have qualified for statutory maternity pay, you will receive it for 39 weeks. You will get it even if you are made redundant, or do not plan to go back to work.
You don't have to repay any statutory maternity pay if you don't go back to work. (However if your employer has paid you additional money on top your statutory pay, you may be liable to pay this back. See Am I entitled to maternity pay? for more details).
How and when do I return to work?
You can return to work at any time from two weeks after the birth of your baby.
Your employer will assume you are taking the full year off, so if you want to return before then you should give them eight weeks’ notice of when you want your leave to end, preferably in writing.
If you return to work at the end of ordinary maternity leave (after 26 weeks or six months) then you should return to your original job.
If you return to work after or during your additional maternity leave (after six months to one year) you should return to your original job too, but if this is not reasonably practical for your employer, they can return you to an alternative position with the same pay and conditions.
What if I decide not to return to work?
If you decide not to return to work, you must still give your employer notice like you would do normally. You won't have to repay any of your statutory maternity pay - but if you received enhanced maternity pay from your employer (where they topped up your statutory maternity pay from the government with their own payments) you may have to pay some of that money back - it will depend on what your contract says.
For full details of the pros and cons of not returning to work after maternity leave, see our article Do I have to return to work after maternity leave?