Maternity leave

So you're pregnant, congratulations! But when do you tell your boss? And how much maternity leave and pay are you entitled to? Here's what to expect.

pregnant woman booking leave

If only I could get the leave, without the childbirth part...

How much maternity leave do I get?

As long as you give your boss enough notice you’re entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave off work, which is made up of 26 weeks of ‘Ordinary’ and 26 weeks of ‘Additional’ maternity leave. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked there, how many hours you do, or how much you get paid.

It’s up to you how much of this maternity leave you take. However, legally, you must take at least two weeks off work immediately after giving birth. This goes up to four weeks if you work in a factory.

You can choose to start maternity leave from 11 weeks before the baby is due.

How much money do I get?

If you’re an employee, you’re entitled to 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), which for the first six weeks will be 90% of your salary, followed by a maximum of £135.45 a week. Your company may give you more than this, and you should check their maternity policy.

To qualify for SMP, you must’ve been working for your employer for 26 weeks into something called the ‘qualifying week’. This is a bit confusing, but this diagram should help you figure it out. You must also earn over £107 a week, give your boss enough notice that you’re pregnant, and have a doctor’s note proving you’re preggers.

Telling your employer you’re pregnant

You must tell your boss at least 15 weeks before your baby is due, preferably in writing. They’ll need to know your due date, and what date you want to start maternity leave.

They must then write to you within 28 days to acknowledge your pregnancy, and to tell you the date you’re expected to return to work.

Your rights whilst on maternity leave

When you’re on maternity leave, your employer must:

  • Tell you about any relevant promotions or job vacancies that arise.
  • Still give you any work-related benefits, like company cars or discounted gym membership.
  • Keep your job open for when you return, or a similar role with the same terms and conditions as your old job. You can be made redundant during maternity leave, but only if there isn’t suitable alternative work available.
  • You’re allowed to work for up to 10 days during your maternity leave without it affecting your maternity pay. These are called ‘Keeping in touch days’.

Coming back to work after having a baby

If you want to return to work earlier than you said you must give you employer at least eight weeks notice.

If you decide to quit your job

If you don’t want to return to work after maternity leave, then you still need to give the right amount of notice as stated in your contract.

If you want to return part-time

You have no automatic right to this. But you do have the right to ask for flexible hours, and your boss must consider this seriously. If they don’t, this could be sex discrimination. You are allowed to make one formal request for flexible working per year.

What if I don’t qualify for maternity leave?

You only qualify for statutory maternity leave if you’re an ’employee’. This means you:

  • Have to work a minimum amount of hours
  • Have NI and tax deducted from your wage
  • Can join your company’s pension scheme
  • Get holiday pay

So if you’re self-employed, for example, you don’t qualify. However you’re still entitled to a Maternity Allowance.

Photo of maternity leave by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Acas offers free advice about everything to do with employment law. 0300 123 1100
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


leaving work

By Holly Bourne

Updated on 29-Sep-2015