Maternity leave is the right for employees to take up to 12 months’ leave on giving birth. To be eligible for leave, the employee must give notice of their pregnancy in a particular form and must specify when they want their leave to start. In some situations, maternity leave can start earlier than planned (eg in some cases when the employee is sick due to a pregnancy-related reason or if they give birth prematurely).
Maternity leave is divided into 6 months’ 'ordinary maternity leave' (OML) followed by 6 months’ 'additional maternity leave' (AML). There is no minimum service requirement. If the employee’s child is born on or after 5 April 2015 and they and their partner qualify, the employee may use shared parental leave instead of taking OML and AML in full. The employee can choose to take OML and AML in full before and after 5 April 2015 and not use shared parental leave.
At the earliest, maternity leave can be taken 11 weeks before the week in which the child is expected to be born (unless the baby is born early). For more information, read Circumstances that can affect maternity pay.
Employees with 26 weeks of continuous service who earn more than a set amount (currently £120 per week) are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) of 90% of normal pay during the first 6 weeks and then, for a further 33 weeks, a fixed statutory rate (£151.97 per week as of 6 April 2021) or 90% of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
Compulsory maternity leave
If an employee recently had a baby, they must take at least 2 weeks off work after the baby is born. This is called compulsory maternity leave. They must take at least 4 weeks compulsory leave if they work in a factory.
After that it is up to the employee to decide how much leave they wish to take. If you do not wish to take the full maternity leave agreed, they must give at least 8 weeks’ notice that they are returning to work early. The employer is entitled to refuse to pay until the 8 week notice period has ended, if the notice was not provided.
They are entitled to return to exactly the same job on the same terms and conditions if they return during or at the end of the OML period.