Maternity leave and pay

Overview

Jo Broadbent, Hogan Lovells Last Modified  31 March 2016

All pregnant employees have the right to take up to 52 weeks' maternity leave, regardless of their length of service. They may also qualify for up to 39 weeks' statutory maternity pay, or maternity allowance if they do not qualify for statutory maternity pay. An employee has the right to return to work during or at the end of ordinary maternity leave to the same job on the same terms and conditions as if she had not been absent.

Pregnant employees have the right to time off to attend ante-natal appointments. Employers are under particular health and safety obligations in respect of pregnant employees and those who have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding.

Key points

  • All pregnant employees are entitled to 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave (OML) and 26 weeks' additional maternity leave (AML), regardless of their length of service.
  • An employee is prohibited from working in the two weeks (four weeks if she works in a factory) immediately following the birth of a child.
  • The employment contract continues as normal during maternity leave, with the exception of pay.
  • Employees may qualify for up to 39 weeks' statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. Employers may also provide a period of enhanced maternity pay.
  • For the tax year beginning April 2016 statutory maternity/paternity/adoption/shared parental pay rate will stay at £139.58 a week. The rate remains unchanged because of the low inflation rate to September 2015.
  • Employees may agree to do up to 10 days' work - known as 'Keeping in touch' (KIT) days - during the maternity leave period without losing statutory maternity pay (SMP) or triggering the end of maternity leave.
  • After additional maternity leave an employee is entitled to return to either the same job, or if this is not reasonably practicable, to another suitable job on terms and conditions that are no less favourable to her than those that applied previously.
  • Pregnant employees and those who are on maternity leave have significant employment protections. They are entitled not to be subjected to a detriment or to be dismissed because they are pregnant or because they have taken or will take maternity leave.
  • Pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and treating someone unfavourably because of pregnancy or maternity is discrimination.
  • Women expecting a baby on or after 5 April 2015 may be eligible to convert some of their maternity leave into shared parental leave that can be taken either by the woman or her partner on a more flexible basis than is the currently the case (see 'In-depth - Returning to work' and section on 'Shared parental leave').