Maternity leave and maternity pay

Finding out you're pregnant is one of the most overwhelming feelings in the entire universe. Once the initial shock wears off, you then get hit with another wave of stress thinking about what this means for work. You’ve probably got a lot of questions about what comes next work-wise. When can you start maternity leave? How long do you get maternity pay for and how much maternity pay are you entitled to? We’re here to take some of that stress off your shoulders. The Mix explains everything you need to know about maternity leave in the UK.

Two young people are sitting at a bus stop. They are discussing maternity pay. This is a full-body image.

How much maternity leave do I get?

As long as you give your boss enough notice you’re entitled to maternity leave of up to 52 weeks. This is made up of 26 weeks of ‘Ordinary’ and 26 weeks of ‘Additional’ maternity leave. This is applicable to everyone,  regardless of 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. But, legally, you have to take at least two weeks off work once the baby is born. This goes up to four weeks if you work in a factory.

When to start maternity leave in the UK

Honestly, there are multiple answers to this, but we’ll try and break it down for you. 

The earliest you can start maternity leave is usually 11 weeks before your due date. You have some flexibility here, so you can leave it until later if it suits you better. Maternity leave starts automatically the day after the birth if the baby arrives early. It also starts automatically if you’re off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the week that the baby is due.

How long do you get maternity pay for?

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 £151.97 a week. Your company may give you more than this. To see if they do, you should check their maternity policy.

To qualify for SMP, you have to have been working for your employer for 26 weeks into something called the ‘qualifying week’. This is where it gets a bit complicated, but this diagram should help you figure it out. You also have to earn an average of £120 a week, give your boss enough notice that you’re pregnant, and have a doctor’s note proving you’re preggers. Think about it as completing a checklist – except it’s about an extremely personal matter. We know, kinda sucks.

Shared parental leave

Most of the same rules apply to shared parental leave too. As long as you’re an employee and are not a single parent, you’ll have the option to take shared parental leave (SPL) for the same period that you are entitled to maternity leave.

So, we hear you asking, why would we wanna do that? Short answer – It gives you more flexibility. Not only can you divide your SPL between you and your partner, but you can also choose when to take it. SPL can’t be taken at the same time as maternity leave, but you can take as much of your maternity leave as you like before you take SPL.

If this idea doesn’t float your boat, then you might want to do some more research into paternity leave.

Shared parental pay

It’s worth noting that shared parental pay is only paid at the statutory rate (£151.97 per week or 90% of average earnings if lower). This is compared to maternity which provides 90% of the mother’s average earnings, with no maximum amount, for the first six weeks.

Typically, it makes most sense for the mother to take at least the first six weeks of leave as maternity leave before beginning any SPL. This is because shared parental pay is likely to be lower than maternity pay. Don’t say we never look out for you!

Telling your employer you’re pregnant

You’re required to 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’ll then email you (comments on your insta post don’t count) within 28 days to acknowledge your pregnancy, and let you know the date you’re expected to return to work.

Your rights whilst on contractual maternity leave

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

  • Tell you about any relevant promotions or job vacancies that arise.
  • Continue to give you access to 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. Unfortunately, you can be made redundant during maternity leave. But this is 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 agreed you have to let your boss know at least eight weeks beforehand.

If you decide to quit your job

As long as you give good notice, then it’s your choice whether or not you wanna quit. If we’re going off of Sandra Bullock’s Two-weeks Notice then you can figure out your work situation after you’ve settled in with the baby. But make sure to check your contract to check the time period your company states.

If you want to return part-time

You have no automatic right to this just because you’re pregnant. But you do have the right to make one formal request for flexible working per year, which your boss has to seriously consider. If they don’t, this could be labelled as sex discrimination. In which case, check out our article on discrimination at work for some advice.

What if I’m not entitled to SML?

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

  • Have to work a minimum amount of hours
  • Have National Insurance 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. But, even if that’s the case, you’re still entitled to a Maternity Allowance.

If you have any more questions about maternity leave or maternity pay, let us know on our discussion boards. You can also check out the government’s resources on maternity pay and maternity leave here and on shared parental leave and pay here. Plus, you can get some more advice on your situation by contacting Citizens Advice through their website.

Next Steps

  • Acas offers free advice about everything to do with employment law. 0300 123 1100
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


leaving work

By Holly Bourne

Updated on 01-Feb-2022