Katie is pregnant and wants to know what her maternity leave rights are.
How much maternity leave will she get? What about maternity pay? She has lots of questions about the timing of the leave and what she has to do to get it. She can’t afford to get it wrong as she’ll be surviving on the money she’ll get.
She’s heard lots of conflicting and confusing information.
My family are in a similar situation at the moment so I set off doing some research. This article is what I came up with.
I believe that reading this article and the sister articles I’ve created will equip you with the knowledge to plan your perfect maternity or paternity leave. You can then complete our Parental Leave Plan. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting and what you’re not.
We’ll take you through the basics of parental leave and pay, what rights you have and what will happen to your job whilst you’re away.
For information on your rights, time limits and lots more, read on!
We have posts coming soon on Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave so stay tuned!
What are my Maternity Leave rights? Do I have any?
What happens to my job? Do I have any Maternity Leave Rights?
Maternity Leave is officially split into Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks) and Additional Maternity Leave (the last 26 weeks).
- Ordinary Maternity Leave: the first six months (26 weeks). If you choose to return to work during this time, you should return to exactly the same job that you had before you went on maternity leave. This is your right.
- Additional Maternity Leave: this is the second six months after your maternity leave started. Your rights regarding your return to work during this time are slightly different. If you have taken more than 6 months leave, you have the right to return to the same job – if it is still available at your place of work. If your old job isn’t available any more you have the right to be offered another job with similar pay and conditions.
Whilst on maternity leave you are still entitled to all the employment rights you received before the leave began, such as:
- Protection from unfair dismissal
- Building up holiday pay
- Pension contributions
- Any other employee benefits you received before (e.g. private health insurance) for the entirety of your maternity leave
- Reasonable paid time off for antenatal care, including scans, appointments and classes (recommended by your doctor, midwife or health visitor).
Can I work whilst on Maternity Leave?
Yes but only a little bit for your regular employer. See our section on Keeping in Touch Days in our Maternity Leave post for more information.
You are allowed to work from home on a self employed basis (say if you’re superwoman and have a side business on top of everything) and still receive your Statutory Maternity Pay.
What if my baby is born early or I have a stillbirth or miscarriage?
You can still receive SML and SMP if:
- Your baby is born prematurely
- Your baby is stillborn after the start of your 24th week of pregnancy
- Your baby dies after being born
If you have a miscarriage (you lose your pregnancy before the 24th week), you unfortunately won’t be eligible for SML or SMP.
We’re planning a post about the financial implications of miscarriage and stillbirth. Please stay tuned and subscribe to our email list to hear straight away when we release it.
Does maternity leave have to start on a Sunday?
The earliest day you can begin your maternity leave is 11 weeks before the sunday before your due date. Of course if your baby is born before this date, your maternity leave will start as soon as the birth happens.
To find the day which is the earliest date you can start your leave, locate a calendar and find the Sunday before your due date and count back 11 weeks.
Your maternity leave can begin any day after that. The exceptions are if your baby is born early or you’re diagnosed with a pregnancy related illness in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy and your employer insists your leave begins at that point.
Am I eligible for maternity leave if I adopt?
Yes, there is a similar system set up to provide leave and pay for those who adopt children in the UK. Though adoption rights aren’t identical to maternity leave rights there are some similarities.
To qualify for adoption leave you must
- Be an employee (similarly to SML),
- an approved adoption agency must match you (or you and your partner) with a child, and,
- All of the relevant paperwork, dates and signatures must be in place.
The above criteria mean that adoption leave is only available to those who are matched with a child via an agency. If you file for adoption of a specific child (eg that is already a part of your family), you would not be eligible.
Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) is fairly similar to SMP in amount and you still need to have been employed for 26 weeks and receive a minimum amount of pay to qualify.
There are lots of questions to answer on how adoption works, the leave and pay system and the financial effect it will have on your family.
I’m planning a detailed post about the financial implications of adopting a child, so if you’re interested in this area please keep an eye out for it. Drop me an email via our Contact Us page to let me know what information you’d like to see too!
You need time off for antenatal appointments. You should get it!
You will need anywhere from seven to a great many antenatal appointments. During these appointments you’ll do things like
- Speak with your midwife about all things pregnancy
- Discuss the pregnancy with your GP
- Have blood tests, urine tests and blood pressure readings taken
- Have ultrasound scans
And they also include educational groups like
- Pregnancy information classes
- Smoking Cessation Classes
- Parenting classes
Pregnant employees have the right to reasonable paid time off for all antenatal scans, classes and appointments with a registered medical/nursing practitioner (eg GP, obstetrician, midwife or health visitor).
Agency workers who’ve worked for the same employer for more than 12 weeks are entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments that occur during normal working hours.
Fathers and partners who are employees are entitled unpaid time off for up to two antenatal appointments (6.5 hours each). Some employers may offer paid time off.
The time off allowed for the appointments should be ‘reasonable’. For example if you have an afternoon appointment you should go to the work in the morning and discuss when to leave with your boss. If your appointment is in the morning and you work standard office hours, you should go back to work afterwards.
Your employer is not supposed to ask you to arrange your appointments on your off days, though it’s generally the best case not to seem like you’re taking advantage! If an appointment falls on a day off anyway then go to it.
Your employer can ask for proof that you are pregnant, but a note from your GP or midwife will have to suffice at first. The MAT1B certificate is only issued after 20 weeks or more, so your employer can’t insist on seeing it for your initial antenatal appointments. You don’t need to provide proof of your first appointment, as you might not have any physical proof. You can give appointment cards or advice letters for the subsequent appointments.
All women and all pregnancies are different. Some women run into problems during their pregnancy and will require more antenatal appointments than others. If the registered healthcare professionals looking after you during your pregnancy feel extra scans, appointments or classes are necessary, ask them to provide you with a letter as such (you may already have been given one). You can then give this to your employer if they question the number of your appointments.
If your employer refuses to give you reasonable paid time off for antenatal care (including appointments, classes and scans recommended by a registered healthcare professional) they are refusing you an employment right to which you are entitled. You could ultimately take them to an employment tribunal under section 57 of the Employment Rights Act 1976. This is an extreme step and the situation can usually be resolved by speaking to them informally in person or perhaps formally in writing where you state your rights.
You can find more information about your rights in pregnancy on the government’s website here.
While you’re entitled to 52 weeks of leave, maternity pay only lasts 39 of those 52 weeks, so if you take the full year, 13 weeks of it is unpaid.
I’m both disabled and pregnant. Where do I stand?
You’re faced with all the new challenges of pregnancy on top of the problems you’ve always faced with your disability. You need support and you hopefully have a good group of people around you.
You may qualify for a higher rate of Personal Independence Payment or other benefits. It would be best to speak to an advisor about your circumstances.
You can find more information and contact details here.
You have a number of rights protecting you during pregnancy which mean your employer can not dismiss you or discriminate against you because you’re pregnant. This includes suffering from a pregnancy related illness.
The subject of sick pay during pregnancy and maternity leave is a complicated one. Maternity Action cover it in depth here.
What if I want to resign during my pregnancy?
You don’t intend to go back to work after your pregnancy. You’re confident that this is the right move for your family and it stacks up financially. Can you still get Statutory Maternity Pay?
(Please note we’d recommend waiting until your baby is here to resign from your job as you never know how you’ll feel or how your finances will be shaping up until you’ve assessed things a few weeks in).
You should be able to still receive your Statutory Maternity Pay or Materntiy Allowance money even if you resign during pregnancy, but only if you resign after the 15th week before your baby is due (roughly week 26). If you resign before this you’ll not be eligible for SMP. This would be a disaster.
You need to know what your contractual notice period is to terminate your employment. This should be written in your contract.
If you’re in the rare position where you don’t have a contractual notice period you need to provide a week’s notice to end your employment.
If you have a longer defined notice period then you just need to hand in your notice in the normal way.
Say you have an eight week notice period, resigning at week 28 or later would be a good bet to ensure you let your notice period run out whilst still on maternity leave, and not have to go back to work afterwards.
You won’t have to pay back any SMP/MA, your employer claims back almost all of it from HMRC anyway. However do be aware if you work for an employer that pays more than the statutory amount of maternity pay, you may have to pay back the extra amount.
What if I want to resign during maternity leave and not go back to work?
You can hand in your notice during the normal way. Just make sure you do so before the end of your maternity leave. SML lasts for 52 weeks (39 weeks paid and 13 weeks unpaid if you qualify for SMP).
If you have an eight week notice period make sure it’s more than eight weeks before the end of your maternity leave or you’ll have to return to work to work out your remaining notice.
You do not need to go ‘back to work’ during your maternity leave to work your notice if you notify your employer in time.
You will still be entitled to all the employment benefits during your notice period that you were before.
Note as well that during your maternity leave and notice period you’ll still continue to build up annual leave. If you have unspent leave at the end of your notice period, your employer should pay you for this.
On Maternity Leave and been treated unfairly? Do these things!
Do you disagree with your employer’s decision about maternity pay? Do you think your employment rights are not being respected because of your pregnancy? Do you think you’re otherwise being discriminated against?
Finding yourself in these situations can be horrible. No-one seems to be listening and the advice online doesn’t fit exactly to your situation. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by things.
Here are some ways of addressing your issue in the first instance.
- Try and work out if you’re being discriminated against for being pregnant or for any other reason. Have a look at this useful resource from Citizens’ Advice for more information.
- Consider making an informal complaint by speaking to someone at work. This could be your line manager or someone in a department that deals with these matters. Make sure you know what you want to say and have your reasons written down. Take notes. Stay calm. Read out from a pre-prepared sheet if you’re nervous. Citizens’ Advice has another excellent page detailing how best to prepare for this.
- If you’ve made no progress by speaking to the relevant people in your workplace and want to take things further then you should raise a grievance with your employer (i.e a formal complaint). The link above should help you with this too.
If you still find yourself in the same situation, you need to speak to someone who will be on your side. Maternity Action has an advice line which is free. It is a high demand service. See if you can find the answer to your query on Pay for Parenting or on the rest of the Maternity Action site.
You can find more information on this service here.
Should I still pay into my workplace pension when on maternity leave?
You’re excited about decorating your new baby’s nursery and planning a baby shower! You have your due date marked in bright red pen on your calendar and you know exactly how many days are left.
Pensions are probably the last thing you’re thinking about!
In April 2019, financial website ThisIsMoney reported new research stating that women were retiring with pension pots ONE FIFTH the size of men. That’s crazy!
Career breaks for childcare, part time working (often for childcare) and the gender pay gap all seem to be contributory factors.
This is often called the gender pension gap too!
Do you have a workplace pension?
Say your employer matches your pension contributions every month and you go on maternity leave and receive SMP,
- your employer will continue to contribute to your pension during the 39 weeks for which you receive maternity pay….
- ….only if you continue to make contributions during your maternity leave
- Your contributions will be based on your actual earnings whilst receiving SMP (ie be smaller than normal)
- Your employer contributions will be based on your pensionable earnings before you went on SML (ie they’ll be bigger than you think)
- If you take the 13 weeks unpaid leave at the end of maternity leave your employer wouldn’t be obliged to keep making contributions during this time but things would restart as normal when you go back to work and there would not be a ‘break in service’
- You might be able to arrange to pay some extra into it when you’re back at work to cover any shortfall
Remember, during maternity leave, your pension contributions will probably be smaller than normal given your reduced level of earnings (if you’re just bringing in SMP). Check your contract though. If you’re employer has enhanced rates of maternity pay on top of the statutory amounts, you might have to contribute fairly close to what you normally would to keep your pension going.
We would really advise not to opt out of your workplace pension during maternity leave.
If you plan to do this you need to check the rules within your scheme about breaks in service and how easy it is to rejoin after a break. Missing out on a year’s worth of contributions (or several years) will cost you hugely in the long run.
Investment firm AJ Bell report that two 1 year ‘gaps’ in employment could cost a parent (earning a standard UK salary) £25k in pension pot (mitigated to £13k if you still pay contributions during maternity leave). They go on to say that one 5 year career break to have kids could cost you up to £100k in pension money by retirement age.
Employer pension contributions are one of the employment rights that are protected during maternity leave. Just like building up paid holiday and protection from unfair dismissal.
I’m not an employee. What about my pension?
It’s a simpler matter if you’re not an employee with a workplace pension. You don’t have a helpful employer making contributions to your pension for you. Your contributions to your pension are your own, with any associated tax relief. Plus, if you’re bringing in less money each month (i.e receiving SMP) you’ll not only have less disposable income, you might not pay enough tax to qualify for any tax relief on your private pension contributions.
The same principles apply as above to self employed people and those outwith employer pension schemes. Try and keep up contributions while you’re on parental leave and top up any shortfall when you return to work full time. You can add up to £40k every year to a pension so it should be easy to top it up if you can afford to afterwards.
What to do next
Your Action Steps!
Read our Maternity posts and work out what you’re entitled to
Print our Maternity Leave plan and fill it in with what you’ve learned. (this is available within our post called ‘Plan your Perfect Maternity Leave: Avoid the common mistakes!’
Consider whether what you’ve learned has changed your plans for your parental leave.
Avoid these pitfalls!
I hope this post has made the complex process of planning a maternity or paternity leave period a bit more straightforward. Please follow some of the links within the post to resources linked to topics that were especially complicated.
These are the common pitfalls I hope the advice above will allow you to avoid.
- You don’t realise what you’re entitled to
- If something sounds like you’re getting less than you should be, question it
- You don’t access shared parental leave because it seems complicated (dedicated post coming soon!)
- You don’t get your forms in in time
- You don’t keep track of all your documents
- You get overwhelmed by all the information
Thanks for reading! If you liked the content, I’d be super grateful if you’d share it with your friends! 😀
Where to find more information
Whilst researching this topic (just like I’ve done with other articles) I discovered that there are so many layers to it. I’ve tried to summarise all the points in this article in an easy to understand manner, but there is so much more detail that you need to understand about each point if it applies to you.
Here are two links that you can go to for more information. They’re very long posts but try and find the paragraphs that relate to you.
The government site on detailed maternity benefit (leave and pay) advice
A charity called Maternity Action tackles all these topics in detail. As per their website they are the ‘UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children – from conception through to the child’s early years’. They’re a great resource!