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Your quick guide to maternity leave

Maternity leave can, at first glance, appear to be quite complex, but the rules are more straightforward than you might think. Legislation can change and the rules vary depending on individual circumstances, so it is worthwhile to familiarise yourself with current regulations to know where you stand and how it applies to you.

Maternity leave at a glance

Eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave in total.

  • The first 26 weeks are known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’.
  • The earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the baby’s due date.
  • A minimum of 2 weeks must be taken after the birth. This increases to 4 weeks if the employee is a factory worker.
  • Some employees are entitled to Shared Parental Leave, which means they can take leave in blocks rather than all in one go. This leave can be taken from birth right up until the child’s first birthday.

Maternity pay at a glance

Statutory Maternity Pay can be paid for up to 39 weeks of the leave period.

  • In the first 6 weeks, eligible employees can receive 90% of their average weekly pay before tax.
  • Over the remaining 33 weeks, employees are entitled to £136.78 or 90% of their average weekly wage (whichever is lower).
  • If Shared Parental Leave is taken, the employee will receive Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP). This is £139.58 a week or 90% of their total weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
  • Tax and National Insurance should always be deducted.

Eligibility criteria

To receive Statutory Maternity Leave, your employee must have an employment contract – although it doesn’t matter how long they’ve worked for you.

The criteria for pay are as follows:

  • Employees must be on your payroll and earn at least £112 per week (gross).
  • By the end of the 15th week before the baby is expected, employees must have worked continuously for you for at least 26 weeks.
  • Employees must provide proof of pregnancy – usually a doctor’s letter or a MATB1 certificate.
  • Employees who have a child through surrogacy are not eligible for Statutory Maternity Leave but receive Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay instead.
  • Employees who are detained in police custody during their maternity pay period will not receive statutory maternity pay and it will not resume once discharged

Notice of maternity leave

Employees must inform you of the expected date of birth and when they want their maternity leave to start. They must provide this information no less than 11 weeks before the due date.

To receive Statutory Maternity Pay, employees must provide notice at least 28 days before the commencement of their leave.

To receive Shared Parental Leave, the employee must give at least 8 weeks’ written notice of their leave dates.     

If notice is late, you may be permitted to delay the start date of pay or leave, but you can’t refuse it or reduce the overall amount.

Employment rights during maternity leave

An employee’s employment rights are fully protected during maternity leave – meaning they remain entitled to:

  • Pay rises
  • Accumulation of holiday leave
  • Their original role

If an employee adopts a child, they are also potentially entitled to pay and leave, but the eligibility criteria differ.

Don't worry if you are still confused about maternity leave or how it applies to your unique circumstances. You can find more information, clarification, details of potential financial assistance and even a maternity calculator on the HMRC website here

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