Maternity leave in the UK – Everything employers need to know

Last checked and updated on 24 May 2022

If you are an employer in the UK, it is important to be aware of the maternity leave laws and legislation that apply to your business.

This guide will provide all the information you need to know, including who is eligible, how much leave they are entitled to, and when it begins and ends.

It is important to note that these are just the basics – employers should always check with their local authority or solicitor for specific advice relating to their workplace.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is a period of time that expectant mothers are entitled to take off work before and after the birth of their child.

Statutory Maternity Leave

This is the leave that all eligible employees are entitled to by law. Employers usually offer more on top of Statutory Maternity Leave, so it is always worth employees checking their contract of employment.

The law in the UK provides eligible employees with up to 52 weeks of leave, made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave (AML).

Ordinary Maternity Leave is the first six months, or 26 weeks. If your employee returns to work during this period, they have the right to return to exactly the same job that they had before they took leave.
Additional Maternity Leave is the second six months, and affects what rights the employee has when they go back to work. If they take more than six months’ leave, they have the right to return to the same job unless it’s no longer available. In this case, they must be given a similar job with the same pay and conditions.

What rights do employees have while on leave?

While on leave, employees are entitled to the same basic working arrangement as if they had not been away. This includes things like pay rises and other benefits, such as pension contributions.

Employees are also protected from being treated unfairly or dismissed because they are pregnant or have taken the leave.

What are the rules for employers?

Your employee must tell you at least 15 weeks before your due date, when the baby is due and when they want to start their leave. The employer can ask for this in writing.

The employer must write to the employee within 28 days to confirm the start and end dates.

What obligations do employers have while their employee is on leave?

Employers must keep in touch with employees on maternity leave and hold their job open for them. They are also obliged to pay any company benefits the employee is entitled to, such as pension contributions.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible, employees must be expecting a baby, adopting a child under six months old, or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement.

Employees must also give their employer at least eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take leave, and must provide proof of pregnancy if asked, such as a medical certificate.

What about fathers?
Fathers or partners are entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave if they meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being the child’s biological father or having primary responsibility for the child’s care.

Shared Parental Leave

New eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave with their partner.

If your employee is eligible, they can even take their leave in up to three separate blocks, instead of taking it all in one go.

Your employee must give you notice to end their leave for either themselves or their partner to be eligible for Shared Parental Leave.

When does maternity leave start?

The earliest that your employees can start is usually 11 weeks before their due date, but employees can choose to work right up until the due date. If they then take time off with a pregnancy related-illness during their last month of pregnancy, their leave will start automatically.

The leave can be taken in one continuous block or broken up into two or three separate blocks of time.

The first block must be taken as eight weeks’ notice before the baby is due, and the second block can be taken anytime from four weeks before the baby is due until 26 weeks after the birth.

When does maternity leave end?

It usually ends 52 weeks after the baby is born, but can be shorter if your employee returns to work earlier.

If your employee takes statutory leave in two separate blocks of time, the second block must be taken within 56 days of returning to work from the first block.

Maternity leave and pay

Leave usually affects pay in one of two ways: either the employee is entitled to their full or partial salary for the duration of their leave, or they are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for 39 weeks.

SMP is paid at a rate of 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, and then at a rate of £156.66 or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the remaining 33 weeks.

Returning to work after maternity leave

You should agree on a date for your employee to come back to work and discuss any changes to their working hours or job role. Once you have agreed on a date, your employee must confirm this in writing.

If your employee wants to return to work earlier than planned, they can do so as long as they give you eight weeks’ notice. If they are returning from OML, they can give you four weeks’ notice.

You can also make use of Keeping In Touch (KIT) days.

Frequently asked questions

How much notice do I need to give my employer if I want to take maternity leave?

You must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice of your intention to take leave.

What types of maternity leave are there?

There are two types of leave: Ordinary Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave.

What is Statutory Maternity Leave?

This is the leave that all eligible employees are entitled to by law. This leave can be taken in one continuous block, or broken up into two or three separate blocks of time.

Do employers usually offer more on top of statutory leave?

Yes, employers typically offer more than the statutory amount of leave. It is always worth checking your contract of employment to see what your entitlements are.

When does maternity leave start?

It typically starts up to eight weeks before the baby is due, or sometimes much closer the due date. The latest it can begin is the day after the baby is born.

How does maternity leave affect pay?

It usually affects pay in one of two ways: either the employee is entitled to their full salary for the duration of their leave, or they are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for 39 weeks.

Do fathers get maternity leave?

Fathers or partners are entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave if they meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being the child’s biological father or having primary responsibility for the child’s care.

What is the structure of maternity leave?

It is typically structured as follows: employees are entitled to up to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave, followed by up to 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave. SML can be taken in one continuous block, or broken up into two separate blocks of time. The first block must be taken as eight weeks’ notice before the baby is due, and the second block can be taken anytime from four weeks before the baby is due until 26 weeks after the birth.

When does maternity leave end?

It typically ends 52 weeks after the baby is born. However, employees may return to work earlier if they so choose. If employees do not want to return to work, they may be entitled to take unpaid leave. Employees should check their contract of employment for more information on their entitlements.

What laws and legislation relate to maternity leave?

The primary piece of legislation governing this in the UK is the Employment Rights Act 1996. This Act entitles eligible employees to take up to 52 weeks of leave, including Statutory Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave.

What are the rules for employers?

Employers must adhere to the rules of SML. Employees are entitled to return to work after their leave, and should be given their original job back or a suitable alternative role. Employers must not discriminate against employees who take the leave.

Who is eligible for maternity leave?

You qualify for statutory leave if you’re an employee (not a ‘worker’); and you give your employer the correct notice. It does not matter how long you’ve been with your employer, how many hours you work or how much you get paid.

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Important – The information provided in our articles is intended to be for general purpose use only, and not advice for you or your business. We strive to publish accurate information, but encourage you to fact-check and seek expert guidance. We recommend that you always speak to a qualified professional to get advice about how to operate your business under your specific requirements and circumstances.