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Maternity leave

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 20 February 2008

Expecting a baby? Then it’s important to know your maternity rights. They can be a little complicated so here are some basics to get you started.

How long?
52 weeks are available to all employees from day one of employment. This includes paid leave for the first 39 weeks, provided you have worked continuously for the same employer for 26 weeks before the 15th week before you expect to give birth.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
- This is your basic (statutory) right that your employer must provide if you are expecting or have had a baby. However, your employer may provide better rights than the legal minimum, so check your contract or ask your HR department.
- You can get SMP for up to 39 weeks, even if you decide to leave your job, and you can decide when it starts if you are employed. However, if your company gives you more than the legal minimum, you may be required to pay back a certain amount if you don’t go back to work. But you don’t have to pay back SMP, whatever you decide.
- The 52 weeks are divided into what’s called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and Additional Maternity Leave (AML). Under OML (the first 26 weeks), you keep all your contractual rights (pension, holidays etc.) During AML (the last 26 weeks) your rights are different. Pension and paid holidays could be suspended, but you may still receive statutory annual leave.

How much do I get?
For SMP, your employer will pay 90% of your salary for the first six weeks (there is no upper limit to this), then up to £128.73 or 90% of your average gross weekly earnings (whichever is the lower) for the remaining 33 weeks. You pay tax and make national insurance contributions as normal.

When does maternity leave start?
The earliest you can start your maternity leave is 11 weeks before the week you are expected to give birth, although you can work right up until the birth if you want to. However, there is a period of compulsory leave, 2 weeks after birth that you must take for health and safety reasons. Your employer will break the law if they allow you to work during this period.

Other entitlements
If you don’t qualify for SMP then you can claim maternity allowance (MA) from the Job Centre Plus. This also applies to women who have changed jobs, are unemployed or who don’t earn enough to meet the conditions for SMP.
Other benefits that you could get are the Sure Start maternity grant, Health in Pregnancy grant, child trust funds, child tax credits and child benefit. You can also take parental leave to take care of children under five, but this will of course be unpaid.

Going back to work
Once you notify your employer about your pregnancy and when you intend to start your maternity leave, they have 28 days to inform you of the date you should return to work. If you want to resign then you must do so in writing 28 days before the date you are expected to return.
After OML you have the right to return to the same job with the same salary. After AML you have the right to a similar job suitable for you on your return. You also have the right to ask to work part time or flexibly. Your employer must take this request seriously.

What about Dad?
There is also statutory leave for fathers (with Statutory Paternity Pay, SPP). However, some companies have their own schemes, so check your contract.
- Paternity leave can be taken if: the father is an employee (self-employed people, agency workers and sub-contractors don’t get paternity leave); if they are the biological father/mother’s husband/partner; if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due; and if they will be fully involved in the baby's upbringing.
- The new dad can take one or two consecutive weeks leave (not odd days) after the birth. He must inform his employer in writing to qualify for leave. This must be done 15 weeks before the expected week of birth.
- He’ll be paid 90% of his salary or £128.73 for one or two consecutive weeks (whichever is the lowest), and will pay tax and national insurance as normal.
- As of April 2011, father’s rights are different: if the baby is due on or after 3rd April 2011, the father may have the right to take up to 26 weeks’ Additional Paternity Leave if the mother returns to work early and if the child is over 20 weeks old. This is in addition to two week’s Ordinary Paternity Leave.

More information
Rights to maternity and paternity leave and pay are complex and depend on your situation, so do seek further information and advice. Be sure to read your contract and speak to your HR department if you are unsure of your rights and obligations. The following sites may also be of help:
www.worksmart.org.uk
www.workingfamilies.org.uk
www.direct.gov.uk

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