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 –
OML cannot normally start earlier than 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth but can start automatically on:
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:
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:-
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.
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.
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 redundancy, pregnancy and maternity