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Maternity leave - what you're entitled to and how to get it

This advice applies to England

You have a right to take up to a year of maternity leave. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer, how much you’re paid or how many hours a week you work. 

Maternity leave is separate from maternity pay, which has different rules about who can get it. You can also check what maternity pay you’re entitled to.

You might also be able to share your leave with your partner.

Who can take maternity leave

You’re entitled to maternity leave if you’re an employee. You’re probably an employee if you do regular work with fixed hours set by your employer.

You aren’t entitled to maternity leave if you’re a ‘worker’. You’re usually a worker if you: 

  • work for an agency - unless you have an agreement saying you’re employed by the agency
  • are a casual worker
  • are on a zero-hours contract

Checking whether you’re an employee can be difficult - contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure.

If you’re self-employed

If you’re self-employed you aren’t entitled to maternity leave.

Even if your contract says you’re ‘self-employed’, you might in fact be an employee and entitled to maternity leave. It’s always best to check if this applies to you - contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure.

If you can’t get maternity leave

By law you need to take at least 2 weeks off work after having your baby (4 weeks if you work in a factory) even if you aren’t entitled to maternity leave.

You still have rights while you’re pregnant at work and you should still check what maternity pay you can get. You might be entitled to statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance even if you can’t get maternity leave.

If you get pregnant on maternity leave

You can go on maternity leave again if you get pregnant while you’re already on maternity leave. You don’t need to go back to work between your pregnancies.

You’ll need to check whether you can get maternity pay a second time, but apart from that you have the same rights as during your first pregnancy. The rules on giving notice and starting your leave stay the same:

  • you’ll need to give notice to your employer 15 weeks before your due date
  • you can start your maternity leave from 11 weeks before your due date

If you’re in the police or the armed forces

You have different rules for maternity leave. Check your contract or speak to your employer to see what rights you have.

If you work on a fishing boat and get paid a share of its profits

You have different rules for maternity leave. Check your contract or speak to your employer to see what rights you have.

How to get your maternity leave

At least 15 weeks before the week when your baby’s due, tell your employer:

  • that you’re pregnant
  • when your baby’s due
  • that you want to take maternity leave
  • when you want your maternity leave to start and end (you can change these dates later)

It’s best to tell your employer in writing so you have a record.

Your employer should confirm the end date of your maternity leave. If they don’t, it’s worth asking them for it to make sure you both have the same date in mind.

Your employer can ask to see a medical certificate, such as your ‘MATB1’ form. You’ll get this at an antenatal appointment after your 20-week scan.

As soon as you tell your employer you’re pregnant, you’re entitled to maternity rights at work.

If you haven’t told your employer you’re pregnant by the deadline

Talk to your employer as soon as you can, even if it’s less than 15 weeks before the week of your due date. You can still take maternity leave if it wouldn’t have been practical for you to give notice on time. This could be, for example, if you:

  • started your job less than 15 weeks before your due date
  • didn’t know you were pregnant
  • were in hospital

When you can start your maternity leave

You can start your maternity leave any day from 11 weeks before your due date. Your maternity leave will start earlier than the date you pick if: 

  • your baby comes early, or
  • you’re off work with an illness related to your pregnancy, and this happens in the 4 weeks before the week of your due date

How long your maternity leave can last

Your maternity leave will last for a year unless you tell your employer you want to return earlier. It can’t last longer than a year.

The shortest maternity leave you can take is 2 weeks. This goes up to 4 weeks if you work in a factory.

If you want to take more than a year off

You don’t have a right to more than a year of maternity leave, but your employer might agree to let you take extra time away from work. Any extra time won’t be classed as maternity leave, so you won’t have your maternity leave rights for that time.

If you’re thinking of asking for more than a year away from work, you’ll need to talk to your employer about:

  • whether you’ll be able to return to your job after the extra time
  • whether the extra time will count as a break in your employment
  • whether you’ll be paid anything for the extra time

Make sure you have any agreement in writing.

You might also want to talk to your employer about flexible working and returning to work but taking unpaid parental leave.

Changing the dates of your maternity leave

You can change the dates of your maternity leave as long as you give your employer enough notice:

  • to start your leave sooner, tell your employer at least 4 weeks before your new start date.
  • to start your leave later, tell your employer at least 4 weeks before your old start date
  • to end your leave sooner, tell your employer at least 8 weeks before your new end date
  • to end your leave later, to tell your employer at least 8 weeks before your old end date

You can give less notice if your employer never gave you your maternity leave dates in writing. It’s still good to give them as much notice as you can.

Adding holiday to your maternity leave

You can take holiday immediately before or after your maternity leave if you want to spend more time away from work.

If you take holiday straight after your maternity leave you’re still classed as being back at work.

Katie’s maternity leave ends on Sunday 18 September and she takes a week’s holiday straight away. She’s classed as being back at work on Monday 19 September even though she isn’t in the office until Monday 26 September.

Building up holiday on maternity leave

You build up holiday as normal while you’re on maternity leave. If you can’t take your holiday because you’re on maternity leave, your employer should let you carry over up to 5.6 weeks of unused days (28 days if you work 5 days a week) into your next holiday year.

If your employer says you can’t take maternity leave

Your employer should agree to your maternity leave if you’ve given them the right amount of notice.

If your employer says you can’t take maternity leave, ask them to explain their reasons. This is likely to be maternity discrimination, and there are more steps you can take if you’re not satisfied with their response.

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