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Maternity Leave and Pay: A Guide for Working Mothers

Maternity leave and pay: A guide for working mothers

Worried about your rights when it comes to maternity leave and pay? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

Finding out you’re pregnant can bring about a range of emotions, from shock to excitement, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds. The same can be said when trying to understand the ins and outs of maternity leave. The most important thing to remember is that if you are eligible, you have a right to take it. 

Having open discussions with your employer about it will also help to smooth out the process, as it’s important for you to share your needs so your employer can meet them as soon as possible to ensure your transition out of and back into work is as stress free as possible. 

When to tell your employer you’re pregnant

You’re legally obligated to tell your employer at least 15 weeks before your Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC), in order to qualify for maternity leave. It’s a good idea to email your employer confirming the following:

  1. That you are pregnant
  2. The expected week of childbirth 
  3. The date on which you intend to start your maternity leave 

Once it has been confirmed and agreed upon, you then have the rights to: 

  • A maximum of 52 weeks’ maternity leave
  • Paid time off to attend antenatal appointments
  • Return to work under the same conditions and terms

If you can’t give your notice by the 15th week, you must give it as soon as reasonably possible. From there, your employer must write back to you within 28 days, stating the end date of your maternity leave. If your employer doesn’t get back to you with your return date, they can’t insist on you giving 8 weeks’ notice to return before the end of your leave period. 

What are the different types of maternity leave?

Maternity leave can be made up of three types of time off:

Compulsory maternity leave (CML) 

Two weeks following the birth that all new mothers must take. 

Ordinary maternity leave (OML)

This applies to the first 26 weeks of maternity leave. After this ends, you can return to your job exactly as before.

Additional maternity leave (AML) 

These are the remaining 26 weeks that follow your OML (that make up the full 52 weeks that you’re entitled to take). It’s optional and affects your employee rights slightly, meaning if it’s not reasonably practicall for the employer to offer you your old job back, you must be offered appropriate similar employment, on no less favourable terms, and with your seniority and pension conditions unaffected.

The length and type of maternity leave will vary between companies, and between individuals. It helps to keep an open dialogue with your employer, since your plans may change throughout the course of the maternity leave period. You have the right to change your return date by giving eight weeks’ written notice.

How much pay am I entitled to?

There are three main types of pay that you can receive during maternity leave:

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

This is payable for 39 weeks, as long as you have been continuously employed for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the EWC.

For the first six weeks, the value of SMP is 90% of your average weekly earnings. For the following 33 weeks, it’s paid at a lower statutory level of £151.20 per week, or 90% of the average weekly earnings if it’s lower. 

Occupational Maternity Pay (OMP)

Your company may ‘top up’ the SMP with Occupational Maternity Pay. This is discretionary, and may have different conditions from SMP which should be available in writing.

Maternity Allowance

Maternity Allowance is a state benefit paid to women who do not qualify for SMP. To qualify, you should have been employed for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks preceding the EWC.

When and how will I receive my maternity pay?

The payment schedule for maternity pay depends on the type you receive. For example, Statutory Maternity Pay and Ordinary Maternity Pay are weekly payments, while your Maternity Allowance will be paid every two or four weeks.

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid up to 39 weeks, in which you are entitled to:  

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
  • £151.97 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks

If you don’t qualify for SMP, you’ll receive Maternity Allowance (MA) instead. This is typically paid for up to 39 weeks. Although, it may only be available for 14 weeks, depending on your eligibility. Payments will typically be received 11 weeks before your baby is due.

You can use the maternity pay calculator to work out how much you could get. SMP is paid in the same way as your wages, either monthly or weekly, your tax and National Insurance (NI) will be deducted as normal. 

You must give your employer a copy of your maternity certificate (form MATB1) which will state your expected week of birth. You can get this from your midwife or GP once you’re 20 weeks pregnant. 

What if I resign while I’m pregnant? 

 If you want to resign from your job whilst you are pregnant, you should hand in your notice in the normal way, giving the notice period required by your employer. Your job will end at the end of your notice period, and you’ll continue to receive your normal pay and benefits during your notice period. 

You’ll still be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay if your job ends after the end of the 15th week before your baby is due (this would roughly be the 26th of your pregnancy) and you meet the qualifying conditions. However, if your job ends before the end of the 15th week you won’t be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay but you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance instead (even if you are no longer employed). 

You may want to wait until after the birth of your baby before making a decision about whether you want to resign in case there is a change in circumstances or you change your mind about staying at home full time.

If you decide to resign after having your baby, you’ll be entitled to continue to receive your Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance for the remaining 39 weeks (unless you start a new job). You’ll be entitled to your usual contractual benefits such as annual leave, up to the end of your notice period.

If you’re not returning to work after maternity leave, you may have to repay any occupational maternity pay provided by your employer, it’s important that you check the terms of your contract. 

Can I work for another employer while I’m on maternity leave?

Before the birth: If you start working for a new company you can still relieve SMP from your old employer before the birth (regardless of whether you were employed by your new employer in the 15th week before your baby was due). 

After the birth: Once your baby has been born you cannot continue to get SMP from your old employer, unless you were employed before the 15th week before your due date. 

If you do some work after the birth for a new employer who did not employ you in the 15th week before your baby was due, you must tell your old employer to stop paying your SMP. If you were paid your SMP in a lump sum, you must return any overpayment to your old employer.

If you are getting SMP from one employer and you do some work for another employer (before your baby is born), your SMP won’t be affected. Your pay will stop if you work for an employer who didn’t employ you in your qualifying week. 

Your SMP will stop if after the baby is born, but before the end of the Maternity Pay Period, you work for an employer who did not employ you in the qualifying week. It is your responsibility to tell the employer paying you SMP about your new job. You must do this as soon as possible, and make sure you return any SMP payment you get that covers the week you started work and any part of the period after you resumed work.

Returning from maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave can certainly be a daunting process. A lot can change during this period, both in your personal life and at work, which is why it’s important to clearly communicate with your employer about your needs. This can include anything from requesting flexible working hours to expressing breast milk at work, By communicating with your employer and establishing firm boundaries you will help to ensure you’re well supported in your transition back to work. 

Keeping in Touch Days (KIT Days) are a great way to help this process. They’re optional (both you and your employer needs to agree on them), but by taking advantage of of them, you’ll be able to take up to 10 days (or up to 20 days during your Shared Parental Leave) to help catch up on any workplace changes or get a headstart on any upcoming projects. It offers a great way to reintegrate back into the workplace at a slower, more staggered pace than simply returning and jumping straight back into work.