When having a baby, you are entitled to claim up to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave. The 52 weeks are based on 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave. Maternity leave is not automatically granted so you must request to take it from your employer.
If you want to share your maternity leave with your partner, you can now do this using the Shared Parental Leave legislation, which allows you to share 50 of the 52 weeks’ entitlement. The first 2 weeks of your maternity leave are compulsory leave and cannot be shared.
Whilst on maternity leave, you will still have the same employment rights as your colleagues, including the right to receive any pay increases and the right to accrue holiday.
How Does Maternity Leave Work?
You are eligible for maternity leave no matter how long you have been employed by your employer. However, you can only claim statutory maternity leave if you are an employee of the business and you must notify your employer of your pregnancy, your expected due date and the date you intend to start maternity leave, no later than 15 weeks before the due date.
This notice can be given to your employer simply by telling them, unless it is requested in writing. However, it is always best to put the notice in writing as only a written notice will trigger certain employer health and safety duties.
Once served with notice, your employer must acknowledge your request and confirm the end date for your leave in writing within 28 days.
Sometimes it can be difficult to decide when to start and finish your maternity leave. However, you cannot start your maternity leave any earlier than 11 weeks before the week your baby is due.
Automatic start date
There are some instances when maternity leave will start automatically, namely:
- If the baby arrives early, your maternity leave will start the day after the birth
- If you are absent from work during the 4 weeks before the due date but before the date you notified to start your leave, and the absence is pregnancy related, your maternity leave will start the day after your first day of absence.
If you can foresee a change in the start date of your maternity leave, then you must give your employer at least 28 days’ notice before the original intended start date or 28 days' notice before the new date, whichever is the earlier.
How Does Statutory Maternity Pay Work?
When having a baby not every person is eligible to claim Statutory Maternity Pay. You will be entitled to statutory maternity pay where you have:
- 26 weeks' continuous employment with the employer up to and including the 15th week before the due date
- Average earnings of at least the lower earnings limit for National Insurance (£112) during the eight-week period ending with the 15th week before the due date
- Remained pregnant 11 weeks before the due date (or have already given birth)
- Given the employer at least 28 days' notice of the date you intend statutory maternity pay to start
- Supplied a certificate (usually a MAT B1) from a midwife or doctor, confirming the due date. This must be given to the employer either before the birth, no more than three weeks after the birth or, if you have good cause for delay, as soon as reasonably practicable
- Ceased work
The payments will come in the same form as your wages and will start as soon as you begin your maternity leave.
Statutory Maternity Pay is only paid for 39 weeks of your maternity leave and is split into 2 different rates:
- For the first six weeks, you will be paid 90% of your normal weekly earnings.
- For the remaining 33 weeks, you will be paid the lower of 90% of your normal weekly earnings or £139.58 per week.
What if I am Not Eligible for Maternity Pay?
If you are not eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, then your employer must communicate this to you in writing.
Even if this is the case, depending on your circumstances, the following options may be available to you:
- Maternity Allowance
- Child benefit
- Child tax credit
- Working tax credits, up to 39 weeks of the Statutory Maternity Leave
- Income support
You may also be eligible to claim the Maternity Sure Start Grant of up to £500, if you are having your first child.
Shared Parental Leave
Some parents may wish to share the mother’s maternity leave between them using the Shared Parental Leave legislation.
You and your partner can propose the pattern of leave that you wish to take, and discuss this with the individual employers. The entitlement to 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 weeks paid) will remain the default position for all employed women, as will the two-week period of compulsory maternity leave. However, if you wish to share this leave and take up Shared Parental Leave and Shared Parental Pay:
- You are able to share between you and your partner up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay (that is, everything other than the compulsory maternity leave period). You will be entitled to give notice that you wish to end your maternity leave and start Shared Parental Leave before the child's birth. However, you can change your mind within six weeks of the birth
- You are required to provide a non-binding indication of your expected pattern of leave when you and your partner opt into the Shared Parental Leave scheme
- Both of you will need to give your respective employers eight weeks' notice of the dates on which you wish to begin Shared Parental Leave and claim shared parental pay. If you wish to take several blocks of leave, you must you’re your employers eight weeks' notice in respect of each period of leave. The eight weeks will include a two-week discussion period between you and the employers
- You are able to take Shared Parental Leave at the same time as each other or separately
- Each of you can make up to three notifications for leave or changes to periods of leave, inclusive of the original request. However, it will be open to your employers to agree further periods of leave, or changes, if this works for both parties
- However, in relation to requests for discontinuous periods of Shared Parental Leave, employers are not obliged to agree to the pattern proposed by you and your partner. Your respective employers will not need to contact each other to discuss your leave entitlements. The default position where agreement cannot be reached will be for a parent's portion of leave to be taken in one continuous block, to start on a date of their choice
- Each of you taking Shared Parental Leave has 20 optional KIT-style days (referred to as SPLIT days), in addition to the usual 10 KIT day entitlement during maternity leave
- You and your partner when returning to work from Shared Parental Leave have the right to return to the same job no matter how many periods of Shared Parental Leave you have taken, as long as you have taken 26 or fewer weeks' leave in total. This 26-week total will include periods of maternity, adoption, paternity and Shared Parental Leave. Once you have exceeded 26 weeks' leave, or where in addition to Shared Parental Leave you have taken a period of ordinary parental leave of more than four weeks, you would only have the right to return to the same or a similar job.
If you require longer than the 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave, then you may be able to take 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave.
Some companies will have their own maternity schemes - if they do, they will communicate the details of this to you and what benefits you will receive.
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by your employer in a matter that involves Maternity Leave or Maternity pay, Wildings Solicitors can offer you the support and assistance you need to resolve your issue.
Head to our Maternity and Paternity Entitlement page for more information or book your initial consultation with an Employment Law specialist today.