This advice applies to England. Change country
You can choose when to start your maternity leave. It can be at any time in, or after, the 11th week before your baby is due. However, your maternity leave will start automatically if you're off work for any reason to do with your pregnancy from the fourth week before your baby is due.
You must tell your employer, preferably in writing, by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due:
- that you're pregnant
- the date your baby is due
- the date you want your maternity leave to start.
You must produce a medical certificate (MATB1), if your employer asks for one, showing when your baby is due. You can get your MATB1 from your midwife or GP.
Once your employer has received your notice that you want to take maternity leave, they must write to you within 28 days and tell you the date your maternity leave runs out and therefore the date when you are expected to return to work from maternity leave.
Most women employees have the right to take up to one year’s (52 weeks’) maternity leave. This does not depend on how long you have worked for your employer. The only employees who don't have this right are:
- share fisherwomen
- women who are normally employed abroad (unless they have a work connection with the UK)
- self-employed women
- policewomen and women serving in the armed forces.
If you're not sure whether or not you're an employee, see Contracts of employment.
You can choose how long you take off work for maternity leave, up to a maximum of 52 weeks. However, the law says that you must take at least two weeks immediately after the baby is born. If you work in a factory, you must take at least four weeks.
The first 26 weeks of maternity leave are called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML). During OML, you will still get all the same rights under your contract of employment as if you were still at work. The only exception is that you will not get your normal pay unless your contract allows for it. But you will, for example, still be entitled to build up holiday and to get any pay increase.
Though you are not entitled to your normal pay, most women employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
For more information about maternity pay, see Parental rights at work.
For more information on contractual rights, see Contracts of employment.
As well as Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), you can also take an additional 26 weeks' maternity leave. This is called Additional Maternity Leave (AML). This gives a total of up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. If you're taking AML, this must follow on directly after OML and there must be no gap between the two.
Your terms and conditions of employment remain the same throughout both OML and AML.
Whether you are entitled to be paid during all or part of your maternity leave depends on your contract of employment and whether you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) - see under heading Maternity pay.
When you are on maternity leave, your employer should keep you informed of issues which may affect you. For example, you should be informed of any relevant promotion opportunities or job vacancies that arise during your maternity leave.
The amount and type of contact between you and your employer must be reasonable. Contact can be made in any way that best suits either or both of you. For example, it could be by telephone, by email, by letter, by you making a visit to the workplace or in other ways.
You are also allowed to work for up to ten days during your maternity leave without it affecting your maternity pay. These are called 'Keeping in Touch Days'.
Both you and your employer must agree about whether you work any Keeping in Touch Days, how many you will work, when you will work them and how much you will be paid for them. You are under no obligation to work them and your employer is under no obligation to offer them to you.
You must also agree between you what sort of work you will do. Keeping in Touch Days could be particularly useful in enabling you to attend a conference, undertake a training activity or attend for a team meeting.
The rate of pay is a matter for agreement with your employer. It may be set out in your employment contract or agreed on a case-by-case basis. However, you must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.
Some employment rights, such as the right to claim statutory redundancy pay, depend on how long you have worked for your employer. The length of time you have worked for your employer is the length of your ‘continuous employment’. It is important, therefore, to note that time spent on maternity leave counts when calculating how long you have been with your employer.
Your employer will assume that you will take all 52 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave. Before you go on maternity leave, your employer should tell you the date your maternity leave ends. This will be 52 weeks after your maternity leave starts.
However, you and your employer may agree on a different date for your maternity leave to end.
If you decide you want to return to work earlier than this, you must give your employer eight weeks’ notice in writing of your new date of return to work.
Right to return after your Ordinary Maternity Leave
All women have the right to return to their old job after 26 weeks’ Ordinary Maternity Leave.
If your employer refuses to let you return after your Ordinary Maternity Leave
If you're not allowed to return to work after your Ordinary Maternity Leave, you may be able to:
- make a claim for unfair dismissal, and
- make a claim for discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity leave.
Both of these claims can be made regardless of how long you have worked for your employer or how many hours a week you work.
If you wish to make claim for automatic unfair dismissal and discrimination, you should speak to an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
If you are sick at the end of your Ordinary Maternity Leave
If you're sick when you are due back to work at the end of your Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), you must get a medical certificate to send to your employer. Your OML will end at the end of the 26th week and you will then go onto sick leave. You will be protected from unfair dismissal for an additional four weeks after your 26 weeks’ OML if you are sick for this period.
If an employer tries to dismiss a woman who is sick at the end of her maternity leave and so cannot return to work, this is likely to be discrimination. If you are in this position, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Right to return to work after your Additional Maternity Leave
If you wish to return to work after AML, you should be offered your old job back, unless this is not reasonably practical. If it is not reasonably practical to offer you your old job back, you must be offered a job that is suitable for you and appropriate in the circumstances, on the same terms and conditions as your old job. For example, your pay must be at least the same as your old job.
If you have not been offered your old job back, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
You have no automatic right to return to work part time after maternity leave. However, you may have the right to ask for flexible working and this request must be considered seriously by your employer. If they do not consider it seriously, this could be discrimination.
For more information about taking a discrimination case, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
While you are on maternity leave, you may be entitled to maternity pay either under your contract of employment or by law through Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance, which can be paid for up to 39 weeks. The rules about maternity pay depend on how long you've worked for your employer, how much you earn and what your contract says.
For more information about maternity pay, see Parental rights at work.
If you’re pregnant or have just had a baby, you may have other rights. These rights include:
- the right of all pregnant women to take time off work for ante-natal care
- the right of all pregnant women to work in a safe environment
- the right of all pregnant women to claim unfair dismissal if dismissed because of pregnancy.
For more information about other rights if you’re pregnant, have just had a baby or are a working parent, see Parental rights at work.
Employees and employers can find more information about their rights and responsibilities on www.gov.uk.
Employees and employers can contact Maternity Action for more information about their rights and responsibilities. You can call a helpline that gives advice and information about rights and entitlements during pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work. There are also free factsheets you can download from their website.
Telephone: 0845 600 8533 (Wednesday: 3pm – 7pm; Thursday: 3pm – 7pm; Friday: 10am – 2pm)
Working Families helps parents and employers find a better balance between home and work life. It provides fact sheets and advice on family-friendly rights and runs a helpline for families on low incomes providing advice on legal rights, benefits and working family-friendly hours.
1 Addington Square
Rights of Women (England and Wales only)
Rights of Women is a women's voluntary organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women about their legal rights. It has free confidential advice lines that gives specialist advice in family law, divorce, relationship breakdown, children and contact issues, domestic and sexual violence, discrimination and lesbian parenting.
52-54 Featherstone Street
Telephone: 0207 251 6575 (admin only)
Textphone: 0207 490 2562
Family law advice line: 020 7251 6577 (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 7pm-9pm; Friday 12 noon-2pm)
Criminal law advice line: 020 7251 8887 (Tuesday 11am-1pm)
Immigration and asylum law advice line: 020 7490 7689 (Monday 12 noon-3pm; Thursday 10am-1pm)
Ascent advice line for women and advisors in London
Family law advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Monday 11am-1pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 2pm-4pm)
Criminal law and sexual violance advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Thursday 2pm-4pm)
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
England, Wales and Scotland
If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Advice on pregnancy and maternity rights is also available on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at: www.equalityhumanrights.com.
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, advice on pregnancy and maternity rights is available on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland's website at www.equalityni.org.