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Maternity Leave is split into two types, Ordinary and Additional. Ordinary Maternity Leave lasts for 26 weeks and all employees are eligible for this regardless of their length of service with their employer.
Workers and freelancers aren’t generally entitled to Maternity Leave but may be entitled to some form of Maternity Pay – see our Maternity Pay chart link below. Those who have their own limited companies (Personal Service Companies) are eligible as ’employees’ of their own limited company to maternity leave – and may be eligible to maternity pay – see our Maternity Pay Chart link below.
See our guide to antenatal appointments – from 1st October 2011 certain ‘agency workers’ will be entitled to paid time off for these appointments (as employees already are) – see our guide to the Agency Workers Regulations here.
Also, from 1st October 2014, prospective fathers/partners of pregnant women and intended parents in surrogacy arrangements, will have the right to take time off to attend two antenatal appointments with their partner. Employees don’t need a minimum length of service to have this right. There’s no legal right to paid time off and the time off to attend appointments will be for a maximum of 6.5 hours on each occasion. This applies to all employees and agency workers with 12 weeks service.
‘Fathers’ must provide reasonable notice of these appointments but there is no need (legally) to provide evidence of the appointment. Employers can request a written declaration from the ‘father’ stating his/her relationship to the mother and that the purpose of the time off is to attend the antenatal appointment with her. The government have issued guidance on these ante-natal appointments for employers (which we must admit we haven’t yet read) but apparently, it answers the tricky questions of:
To qualify for maternity leave, a woman must tell her employer by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC):
In Autumn 2013, the European Court of Justice decided that a surrogate mother was entitled to maternity leave. The UK government has amended legislation in 2015 so that prospective parents in a surrogacy arrangement who apply for a parental order are now eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay and for shared parental leave and pay and paternity leave and pay.
All Employees, regardless of their length of service are now entitled to an additional 26 weeks’ maternity leave. Additional maternity leave starts immediately after ordinary maternity leave and continues for a further 26 weeks.
This additional leave means you can be away from your job on maternity leave for 52 weeks in total (but you do not need to take this Additional Maternity Leave).
Additional maternity leave is usually unpaid (after the first 13 weeks) – see our Pay Chart below – unless your employer gives you contractual rights to pay during this whole period.
During this period your contract of employment continues (unless you are on a Fixed Term contract that expires) but with limited terms and conditions –
Since October 2008, you are entitled to your normal full benefits package throughout Additional Maternity Leave as well (including holiday entitlement but excluding pay and pensions). This includes receiving any entitlement to life insurance, permanent health insurance and medical cover, any form of vouchers you receive. In Donaldson v Peninsula Business Services in 2015, an Employment Tribunal found it was discriminatory (unlawful sex discrimination) for an employer to require employees to leave a childcare voucher salary sacrifice scheme while on maternity leave. However, this was overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in March 2016; they found that provision of childcare vouchers under a salary sacrifice scheme was part of an employee’s remuneration under Regulation 9 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, and was not a benefit in kind, and so the employer did not have to provide childcare vouchers during maternity leave (in effect HMRC Guidance is incorrect). The vouchers weren’t a benefit in kind additional to her salary, but a ‘diversion’ of her salary. If the childcare vouchers were provided in addition to salary then they would be a benefit in kind and should be continued. The EAT said that Parliament didn’t intend that employers must continue providing childcare vouchers when an employee was ONLY receiving SMP and there was no salary from which a deduction could be made to pay for the vouchers. This decision may be challenged or appealed
When an employer writes to you setting out your return date they will assume that you’ll take your whole 52 weeks maternity leave entitlement (Ordinary and Additional). If you wish to change your return date you must give your employer eight weeks notice of your return to work date.
You can read the 2014 guide by ACAS about breastfeeding employees in the workplace here – this outlines what employers are required to do and consider which include:
From 1st April 2007 “Keeping In Touch” days have been introduced. During either your Ordinary or Additional Maternity leave, employees can now do up to 10 “KIT” days work for your Employer, as long as both parties agree to the work being done (and what work will be done / how much you will be paid for the work). ‘Work’ could include anything relevant, e.g. training, attending conferences/meetings. These ‘Keeping in Touch’ days can’t be taken in the first two weeks after the baby is born and don’t need to be taken at all.
During paid maternity leave (39 weeks if you are receiving Statutory Maternity Pay; longer if you are receiving Occupational Maternity Pay that lasts more than 39 weeks), if you’re a member of an Occupational Pension scheme, then your paid maternity leave is defined as pensionable service. This means that both employees and employers continue to make contributions to your pension scheme (your contributions are based on the actual pay you’re receiving while on maternity leave; you may be given the opportunity by your Employer to top up your contributions to the normal level, so your pension fund does not suffer).
It’s generally understood that employees can’t take holiday and be on maternity leave at the same time, although you continue to accrue your normal holiday entitlement throughout the whole period of your maternity leave. Therefore you must take your holiday entitlement before you start maternity leave or at the end. For details on bank holidays that occur during statutory maternity leave see our Working Time Directive page.
There can be a lot of confusion about what should happen if there’s a redundancy situation whilst you’re on maternity leave.
The Law (Maternity and Parental Leave regulations) says that:
“If it is not practicable by reason of redundancy for an Employer to continue to employ a woman on maternity leave, the Employee is entitled to be offered (not just invited to apply for) a suitable available vacancy with her Employer where there is one available.”
This basically gives the woman priority over other Employees who are at risk of redundancy, even if they are better qualified for the job. But this right to a vacancy depends on two conditions (from the regulations above):
It’s also for the employer to decide if the job is suitable and they should provide written evidence of why the role is suitable or not.
An interesting case at the end of 2014 confirmed this (Sefton Borough Council v Wainwright). The Employer decided that two positions (including the claimants who was on maternity leave) would be deleted and replaced by a single, new post. The two people doing the existing job (including the claimant on maternity leave) were interviewed for the new role and the other colleague was found to be the better candidate and offered the new job. No other vacancies were offered to the claimant and she was made redundant. Her claim of automatic unfair dismissal succeeded because the employer had not offered her a suitable vacancy where one was available (the new job). The fact that the job was only open to a limited pool (two people) didn’t mean that it wasn’t an available vacancy; the claimant was suitable for the new job and therefore it was a suitable available vacancy – the claimant should have been offered the post without having to compete for it, even though her colleague was the better candidate.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal commented that if there’s more than one suitable vacancy the employer does not have to offer all of the vacancies, or even any particular vacancy (to the employee who is on maternity leave). The Employer need only to offer one vacancy and can choose which to offer provided the new job is for work which is both suitable in relation to the employee and appropriate for her to do and is offered on terms and conditions which are not substantially less favourable than the old job.
The EAT also said that (which complicates matters for the employer) in deciding which of several vacancies to offer a woman on maternity leave, the employer must act ‘proportionately’ by balancing the interest of other employees, or it may risk a claim of discrimination from those who miss out on a vacancy because of preferential treatment is given to a female employee solely on account of her maternity!
They also looked at when the duty to offer a suitable vacancy arises and decided this was triggered as soon as the employer becomes aware that the woman’s role is redundant or potentially redundant.
An employer cannot reject a recruitment candidate for a job (of any duration) because she is pregnant and so could not work for the whole duration of the job (because she would be starting maternity leave). This is unlawful discrimination.
Should you require any information on Parental Bereavement Leave, which is expected to become a legal right from April 2020 (date tbc), you can find out more information in our “Time off for dependants – Family emergencies and Parental Bereavement Leave” article.
If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.
Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.