Maternity Leave

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Health Assured team

26 August 2022

For employees, having a child is one of the happiest moments of their lives. But as an employer, you have a right to provide them with maternity leave entitlements.

Eligible employees can receive statutory maternity pay during this time. But whilst they're away, their employee rights and benefits are also protected.

In this guide, we'll discuss what maternity leave is, your employee's entitlements, and what needs to be known about statutory maternity leave and pay.

How much statutory maternity leave are employees entitled to?

Employees in the UK are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave.

Before going on maternity leave, employees are entitled to paid time off to attend medical appointments or parenting classes.

What is ordinary maternity leave?

Ordinary maternity leave lasts for six months or 26 weeks. If the employee decides to return to work during this period, they have a legal right to return to exactly the same job they had before they went on maternity leave.

It's compulsory for all employees to take two weeks to leave after the birth of their child, or four weeks if they are factory workers.

What is additional maternity leave?

Additional maternity leave is the following 26 weeks following ordinary leave. If an employee takes more than 26 weeks, they have the right to return to the same job, unless the role is no longer available.

If it isn't available, a similar role must be offered.

A pregnant woman, possibly going on leave soon.A pregnant woman, possibly going on leave soon.

Employment rights during maternity leave

During their maternity leave period, employee rights and employment terms are protected. Staff must also receive the following benefits:

  • Pension contributions.

  • Paid holidays, such as bank holidays.

  • Protection from unfair dismissal.

  • Any other benefits, such as insurance and gym membership.

  • Whilst on maternity leave, annual leave will still be accrued.

It's a legal requirement to provide your employees with their entitlements whilst they're on maternity leave, otherwise, a claim may be made against you.

How much notice should employees give before maternity leave?

To take maternity leave, employees must provide at least 15 weeks' notice before the baby's due date.

They must give notice of the following:

  1. The baby's due date.

  2. When they are to start their maternity leave (which can be changed within 28 days).

How early can employees take maternity leave?

The earliest an employee can take paid maternity leave is the 11th week before the expected week of birth. However, if the baby is born early, maternity leave can start the day after.

Make sure you include all this information in the employee handbook and contract to stop confusion down the line.

As an employer, you must understand what statutory maternity pay is, and how much your employees should receive.

What is statutory maternity pay?

Statutory maternity pay is the legal minimum amount an employer must provide their employee during maternity leave. It is paid for 39 weeks of the employee's maternity leave.

Employees must provide you with 28 days' notice so they can receive statutory maternity pay. However, they should give you as much notice as they can.

An employee may be eligible for statutory adoption pay if they're adopting a child.

How much statutory maternity pay are employees entitled to?

During the first 39 weeks of their maternity leave, your employees should receive the following:

  • First six weeks: 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax.

  • The following 33 weeks: £184.03 per week, or 90% of their weekly earnings (whichever is less).

  • The next 13 weeks: unpaid.

For an employer, you must realise if all your employees qualify for maternity leave and pay.

Do all employees qualify for statutory maternity leave and pay?

For employees to be eligible for statutory maternity leave, employees must have a contract of employment with your company, and be employed for at least six months before the baby is due.

They may also be eligible for maternity pay if they provide proof they're pregnant, via a doctor's MATB1 maternity certificate. Or if they earn at least £120 per week on average in the eight weeks before the baby being 15 weeks from the expected week of birth.

What is enhanced maternity pay?

Enhanced maternity pay (also known as occupational maternity pay or contractual maternity pay) is often higher than statutory maternity pay. The amount provided is chosen by the employer.

Some employers offer enhanced maternity or contractual maternity pay as employee benefits. This is a good way of attracting better candidates to the company.

What is maternity allowance?

Employees may qualify for maternity allowance if they're pregnant or have a new baby but don't qualify for maternity pay.

Maternity allowance is tax-free and eligible people may receive up to £156.66 a week for 39 weeks.

How to claim maternity allowance

This financial aid is provided by the JobCentre Plus and more information can be found on their website.

However, claiming maternity allowance can have an impact on other benefits they may receive, such as housing benefits, income support, universal credit, and council tax reduction.

Are employees entitled to paternity leave?

To qualify for paternity leave, the employee must meet the following requirements:

  • Have responsibility for the baby's care.

  • Be either the biological father of the baby or the husband/partner of the mother. Or be their civil partner.

  • Need to have worked for the same employer for at least six months prior to the 15th week before the baby is due.

The above also applies to same-sex as well as mixed couples. Your employees may also be eligible for shared parental leave.

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave is 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay - to be taken with their partner.

If your employees are eligible, the leave can be taken in three separate blocks, making it easier to manage and can help with their circumstances.

How to qualify for statutory shared parental leave

For your employees to qualify for maternity leave, they must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Must be eligible for maternity leave or pay, adoption leave or pay, and maternity allowance.

  • Must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks before the 15th week before the baby is due.

  • Stay with the employer during the shared parental leave.

  • Must end any maternity pay or maternity allowance before taking the leave.

As an employer, you must understand the maternity leave rights of people who work for an agency.

Do agency workers qualify for statutory maternity pay?

Employees may be eligible for statutory maternity pay as an agency worker if they meet the following requirements:

  • Have been employed by the same agency for 26 weeks when they reach the 15th week before the due date.

  • Work for the agency during the 15th week before the baby's due date.

  • Have average weekly earnings of at least £123 a week for the last two months.

What other financial help is available to employees expecting children?

Alongside statutory maternity pay, there is also other financial assistance available to your employees.

  • Sure start maternity grant: This is a one-off payment for low-income families.

  • Tax credits: Child tax credit and working tax credit provide financial support for people on lower-paid jobs.

  • Low-income support: This is available for people who are unable to work full-time.

  • Employment and support allowance: This has replaced income support and is available for people who cannot work due to illness or disability.

A baby playing with musical instruments.

Can you claim maternity leave and pay if you're self-employed?

For self-employed people, statutory maternity leave and pay aren't available. However, self-employed people may be able to claim maternity allowance.

Can you dismiss an employee during maternity leave?

Employees are protected against unfair treatment and dismissal if the reasons are due to their pregnancy. This may lead to an employment tribunal claim being made against you for being dismissed unfairly.

You must be aware that if an employee doesn't receive their pay and benefit entitlements during maternity leave, they may be able to claim maternity discrimination.

Health and wellbeing support from Health Assured

As an employer, you have a legal duty to provide your staff with 52 weeks of maternity leave, as well protecting their employment rights whilst they're away from the business. As well as making sure all eligible employees receive their statutory maternity pay.

You must understand the entitlements your employees have when they have a baby, and what happens on their return to work.

Failure to provide your staff with their maternity leave rights is a breach of employment law and could lead to a tribunal.

If you or your company want to know more about maternity leave or have any wellbeing concerns, please call our free helpline. It's available 24/7-365, on 0844 891 0352.

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