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Maternity leave - your options when it ends

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

When you first ask for maternity leave your employer will give you a date for returning to work. They’ll assume you’ll be away for a year unless you tell them you want to return to work sooner.

Don’t worry if you change your mind about when to return to work. Just write to your employer with your new dates, and give them plenty of time:   

  • to end your leave sooner, tell your employer at least 8 weeks before your new end date
  • to end your leave later, tell your employer at least 8 weeks before your old end date

If you decide not to return to work, your contract will tell you what notice to give - if there’s nothing in your contract, you need to give at least 1 week’s notice.

Returning to your job

You have a right to return to work after your maternity leave.

You’ve been on maternity leave for 26 weeks or less

You’re entitled to return to the same job after maternity leave if you’ve been away 26 weeks or less. Your pay and conditions must be the same as or better than if you hadn’t gone on maternity leave. 

It’s unfair dismissal and sex discrimination if your employer says you can’t return to the same job. You can take steps to resolve an unfair dismissal, starting with talking to your employer. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need any help.

You’ve been on maternity leave for more 26 weeks

It’s unfair dismissal and sex discrimination if your employer doesn’t let you return to work after maternity leave, or if they offer you a different job without a strong reason. They can’t offer you a different job if:

  • your job still exists - for example if they’ve given it to someone else
  • your job would still exist if you hadn’t gone on maternity leave
  • the new job isn’t something you could do
  • the new job has worse conditions or pay than yours did - for example if you used to work part-time, and the new job would be full-time only

You can take steps to resolve an unfair dismissal, starting with talking to your employer. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need any help.

You have extra rights if you’re made redundant on maternity leave. Check whether your redundancy is fair to make sure your employer is following the rules.

Returning to work part-time or with flexible hours

You can ask your employer for flexible working at any time. It could mean changing your days or hours, working from home or switching from shifts to a regular work pattern.

Usually these changes will be permanent, so work out what changes will be best for you before you ask. You can ask your employer for a trial period to test out the changes.

When you ask for flexible working your employer doesn’t have to say yes, but they should:

  • arrange a meeting to discuss your request

  • give you a decision within 3 months

  • give you their answer in writing, including their reasons if they refuse

Check what you can do if your employer says you can’t work flexibly. You can appeal if they don’t follow the process or give acceptable reasons.  

Your employer shouldn’t sack you or treat you badly for asking to work flexibly. For example, they aren’t allowed to use your request as an excuse to give a promotion to someone else instead of you.

Not returning to your job

If you decide not to go back to your job, your contract will tell you how much notice you need to give your employer. If there’s nothing in your contract, you need to give at least a week’s notice.  

Make sure you get paid for any holiday you have left - including the time you built up while you were on maternity leave.

Check whether you’d need to pay back any maternity pay

If you get contractual maternity pay you might only keep your full amount if you return to work.

You won’t need to pay back statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance, even if you don’t return to work. Check what type of maternity pay you’re entitled to if you’re not sure.

If you get contractual maternity pay

Your contract or employee handbook will tell you how long you need to spend back at work to keep your full contractual maternity pay.

You can take holiday to reduce how long you need to spend back at work. You could have quite a lot of holiday built up from the time you were on maternity leave.

If you do need to pay back contractual maternity pay, you won’t lose all of it. You’ll keep what you would have got if you’d been paid statutory maternity pay instead of contractual. This could make a big difference - check how much maternity pay you’ll get to see how this could affect you.

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