Maternity leave and rights

All female employees, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer or how much they earn, are entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave.


Period of maternity leave 

Statutory maternity leave is divided into two main periods –

  • 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) 
  • 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave (AML)

OML cannot normally start earlier than 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth but can start automatically on:

  • the day after childbirth
  • four weeks before the expected week of childbirth if the woman absent from work because of pregnancy

AML automatically starts at the end of the OML period and the woman does not need to give notice that she is taking it.


Compulsory maternity leave

In addition there is a period of compulsory maternity leave for a period of the two weeks immediatley after the birth - no woman can work in this period. Usually compulsory maternity leave will form part of the OML period.


Giving notice of statutory maternity leave

A woman who wants to take statutory maternity leave must give her employer notice that she will do so.  The notice needs to be given at least 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth and needs to tell the employer:

  • that she is pregnant
  • the expected week of childbirth
  • the date she intends to start her OML

The notice does not have to be in writing unless the employer requests that it be put in writing.


If a woman has not been able to give notice because of pregnancy related absence or unexpected childbirth she must notify her employer as soon as resonably practicable.


If correct notice is not given then the woman will lose her right to statutory maternity leave.


Right to return to work after maternity leave

A woman has a right to return to work after maternity leave as follows:-

  • If she takes OML only; a woman must be allowed to return to the job she was doing before she started maternity leave
  • If she takes OML and AML; she must be allowed to return to her previous job BUT if the employer can show that it was not reasonably practicable to allow her to return to that job, they must offer her suitable alternative work.


Terms and conditions during maternity leave

Apart from pay a woman is entitled to all the terms and conditions of employment which would have applied as if she had been at work.


She is only entitled to any contractual or stautory maternity pay during her period of leave.


More information on maternity pay


Working during maternity leave

If a woman returns to work or does any work under her contract of employment her statutory maternity leave will end and she cannot return to it.


Keeping in touch days

There is a limited exception to the limitation on doing work during statutory maternity leave. An employee can work for up to 10 days during her stautory maternity leave without the leave ending.  The days can be worked on any basis by agreement between the parties except in the compulsory maternity leave period (see above). The days work can be paid or unpaid by agreement.


Discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave

Women who are pregnant or on maternity leave are protected from being treated unfavourably because of their status.


More information on discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity


Unfair dismissal and redundancy

It is unfair dismissal to dismiss and employee because they are pregnant or exercising a right to take maternity leave.


If a redundancy situation arises an employer must give preference to pregnant employees in any offers of alternative employment.


More information on unfair dismissal and pregnancy


More information on redundancy, pregnancy and maternity


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