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{Almost} Everything You Need To Know About Maternity Leave

Author: Lottie Manns

Telling work about your pregnancy is a tricky one. It was something I was dreading. Even worse with Alice given that I was still on maternity leave with Molly when I found out I was pregnant. Let’s just say my old job at an advertising agency was fast paced and pressured and I knew what the reaction would be – they would be happy for me but would be instantly thinking of all the projects that would need to be sorted. I often had to move doctors appointments and even one of my scans due to client meetings and TV shoots.

I really didn’t know anything about anything. When should I be telling work and what were my entitlements thereafter? Most importantly how much would I get paid!! I’m not entirely sure I understood it afterwards either if I’m honest. It’s baffling.

So I thought it would be good to bring you a quick guide. I must stress though that this is my interpretation of the rules so pretty pretty please make sure you talk to your HR department (if relevant) with any questions or queries.

When to tell your work

When you tell your employer is up to you but it must be by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due. I chose to tell them shortly after my 12 week scan. Mostly because I was excited to natter to my friends about it and I’m not exactly quiet!! On the flip side I have a friend who didn’t tell her employer until close to 6 months.

You will need to supply them with a MATB1 form which is you medical certificate to show the date your baby is due. Your midwife or GP will be able to provide this at around 20 weeks. You don’t need this straight away when you decide to tell your employer but they will require the form before your maternity leave starts.

When can you start maternity leave?

You can start your maternity leave any time after the 11th week before your baby is due. Most women choose to start 2-3 weeks before in order to maximise the amount of maternity leave after baby is born.

I never actually got to that point as both girls were early. With Molly my maternity leave was automatically started early as I was ill and off work. Your employer has the right to start your maternity leave if you are off work for any reason to do with your pregnancy during the last four weeks before your baby is due.

How much maternity leave do you get?

The amount of maternity leave you take is up to you. The law states that women must take at least two weeks off immediately after birth and you have the right to take up to one year’s or 52 weeks maternity leave.

The first 26 weeks of your maternity leave is called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and then you can take 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML) giving you a total of 52 weeks. If you choose to take AML it must be done straight after your OML with no gap.

Once you have told your employer the date you want to start maternity leave they will most likely put together a calendar for you showing when your maternity leave runs out and the date that you will be expected to return to work.

Most people can be quite clever with holiday to maximise maternity leave. I used up holidays for the first week or so of my leave and then tagged it on to the end of of my maternity leave too. This meant that with Molly I had close to 60 weeks off. Yippee!

Maternity Pay

This is the bit I’m guessing most of you will be concerned about. I know I was. The pay you receive whilst on maternity leave depends on your own individual contract. Some lucky people receive full or half pay for the majority of their maternity leave. Most will receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which will be paid for up to 39 weeks.

You can claim SMP if you have worked continuously for the same employer for 26 weeks at the 15th week before baby is due. This might explain it a bit better!

For the first 6 weeks of SMP you get paid 90% of your gross earnings. After that you will get paid £139.58 per week or 90% of your normal earnings. Whichever is the lowest. This is paid by your employer in the same way you normally are.

You may be able to still have some of your benefits so it is worth asking. For example I opted out of my company car scheme and took the car allowance instead. This gave me more than I was paying out on the car which was great as every little helps.

Time to get saving I’d say.

Time off

Whilst you are pregnant you allowed to have time off for doctors appointments and antenatal appointments.

Your employment rights

During your OML you will have all the same rights as your normal employment such as accruing holiday and getting any standard pay increases. The terms of your contract should also remain the same through both OML and AML. The one exception is that you will not get your normal pay unless you are on full maternity pay.

Your employer should keep in touch with you during your maternity leave if their are any issues that affect you or your role. This could include promotions or job vacancies. They are also not allowed to change your contract without agreement.

When you are on maternity leave this counts as continuous employment. This is important with various rights such as claiming statutory redundancy pay if you are faced with that situation.

Keeping in touch days

Whilst you are on maternity leave you are allowed to work and be paid for up to 10 days called ‘keeping in touch days’. These should be agreed with your employer and are a great way of getting back up to speed before returning or for things like training or team meetings. You do not have to do these. I never did. Equally your employer does not have to offer you these so it’s worth a chat if it’s something you would like to do.

Returning to work

In most cases your employer assumes you will take the full 52 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave. If you wish to return sooner than this you need to tell them before you go on maternity leave or if you make this decision whilst on maternity leave you will need to give your employer eight weeks written notice of the date you will be returning.

You have the right to return to your old job after your Ordinary Maternity Leave. After your Additional Maternity Leave you should be able to return to your previous job unless this is not reasonably practical. In that case you should be offered a similar role that is suitable.

If for any reason you are not allowed to return then you may be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal or discrimination.

Unfortunately you have no automatic right to return part time after your maternity leave. This will be up to your employer and something you need to discuss with them. They must consider any requests for flexible working. I was lucky that I was allowed to work 4 days a week after Molly and finish 30 minutes early by working through lunch to get her from nursery. After Alice I wanted to work less hours which unfortunately wasn’t going to be possible so I left for pastures new.
As I said this is just outline details but I do hope it has been useful and one less thing to worry about. If anyone has any nuggets of information or anything I’ve missed then just yell!

Author: Lottie Manns
Cake baker (and cake eater!) extraordinaire. Drawn to all things girly and glittery.
Follow Lottie on instagram @buttercreamanddreams

54 thoughts on “{Almost} Everything You Need To Know About Maternity Leave

  1. This is a timely post for me, not due to starting Mat leave but as its my first day back in work since my daughter was born 9 months ago.
    I can’t believe I’m back at work, the time has gone so quickly and feels like yesterday that I was wearing my baby on board badge on the commute!
    I did 9 keeping in touch days and I found these so worthwhile not to mention the benefit of getting paid which really helps if you are on statutory pay xx

    1. Oh good luck Hannah! It goes so fast doesn’t it? I’m sure you will have a great day. Believe me, getting to drink a hot cup of tea and having a natter with your friends makes it all that much better. Xx

  2. Just one thing – the Mat1B form probably won’t be available until 28 weeks (I think – it’s later than you would expect) – my employer knew this and didn’t chase but the midwife warned me that not all are as clued up.

    I would also bear in mind that your thoughts on going back (either when or to which hours or at all) may change once the baby arrives. I was convinced I’d want to return to work but now 5 months in I’m not so sure and am making some big changes to budgets etc to see if that’s possible. Keep all options available as long as possible!

    1. Oh, thank you for that. I had completely forgotten when I got the form. I was completely useless and didn’t give mine in until really late so thought it was just me. I’ve just adjusted the post above to include your info as don’t want to confuse everyone!
      I definitely agree with keeping an open mind. You just never know how you will feel. I was planning on having 9 months with Molly but decided to stretch and have those last few months even if I wasn’t being paid. We just cut back and made it work. It was so worth it xx

      1. Midwives can issue the MatB1 form anytime after your 20 week scan, it just so happens that the next time you see your midwife after this is around 28 weeks. However, if you need it prior to this you can ring and ask. Hope this helps x

  3. Great post. I found telling work really difficult, not because my work is difficult but I just wasn’t sure how to tell them, how they’d take it etc. I opted to tell by boss just after my 12 week scan, thinking that way it gave her as much time as possible to plan my cover etc. She was brilliant and very supportive so I’m not sure what I was worried about! I then slowly broke the news to other close colleagues and then just let the news filter out. One thing I found out is that your midwife/GP cannot legally issue your MATB1 until you are 20 weeks pregnant so I had to wait to give my formal notice but to be honest, it gave me time to figure out what we were going to do.
    I only get SMP but was pleasantly surprised that I will continue to get any non-numerative benefits like accruing holiday, pension, company mobile phone and healthcare in my case. Definitely worth checking with HR as to what this covers though as I think it all depends what is classed as your salary and what is classed as another benefit. It is a bit of a minefield though, I found the government website useful to get to know my entitlements. There’s is also info Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave too x

    1. It is always nerve wracking knowing how they will take it, isn’t it? My worst was telling them I was pregnant again on my first week back after maternity leave. Let’s just say it didn’t go down as well as my first pregnancy!! I found my extra benefits such as my mobile and car allowance a complete saviour. It really does make a difference xx

    2. P.s. Yes to paternity leave too! My brother in law can have a year off on full pay!!! My sister thinks she will go back to work after 2 weeks when they decide to have kids. I’m thinking she may change her mind! x

  4. Great post. I remember being all confused by the maternity terms when I was pregnant and you’ve summed it up really well at least for employed mums. Not exactly sure how it works if you’re self employed or not entitled to statutory maternity pay. I think that’s where maternity allowance comes in – maybe someone else can shed some light on this.

    I found I had to pester my midwife a bit to get the MATB1 form but she was a bit forgetful at the best of times so that’s probably all it was. Also I couldn’t get it before I was 20 weeks.

    I also found keeping in touch days very useful ( not least for the added pay). It was good to catch up with everyone and at least with my company I didn’t have to do a full day as such either so going to the company meeting to see what has been going on was classed as a day. It also gave me a bit of an idea on how it was going to work once I’ve returned properly and helped me negotiate my hours.

    And definitely make sure you’re not missing out on any paid days off. I nearly lost out on 3 days (where my company “closes” for Christmas – it’s not a full closure and a lot of staff end up taking the days off at other times) and had to do a lot of payslip checking, counting and emailing but as Lottie said every little helps.

    1. Yes, I wasn’t really sure on the whole self employed or when you don’t get statutory. I didn’t want to give false information so have just tried to write about the bits I experienced (and my memory is slightly hazy!). Hopefully some of the team may have info on the whole self employed side of things. I hadn’t realised that going in to a meeting classed as my keeping in touch days, thats at least 2 days I could have been paid for!! Oh well. It is definitely worth questioning everything when it comes to pay as you will need every penny. Well done you for getting it sorted xx

  5. I had to tell my boss a bit early as I worked for a travel company and was off out on a research trip so we had to get the insurance sorted in case something happened over there. It didn’t, but had a major scare on the next trip away and work flew me home in a flurry for scans. They were 100% supportive, but a reminder that in a risky job a full risk assessment for your role should be carried out to protect you during your pregnancy- if necessary your role should change to reflect this.

    Today would have been my first day back. It feels a bit funny to be still at home with my rambunctious 11 month old! Strapped for cash but my old role was just impossible with a little in tow.

    1. Oh Lucy, that must have been so scary. So glad everything worked out. I thought it was bad enough driving all over the place with my last job but flying must have been super scary. I forgot about the risk assessment, good reminder point, thank you. I chose to stop driving long distances near the very end of my pregnancy as didn’t want to be stuck on the motorway (I regularly sat stationary on the M1) should something happen. Seems silly compared to you being in a different country. Enjoy your time with your little one. It is so worth it. xx

  6. I started my maternity leave today – woo!

    I did a lot of research around this last time I took maternity leave as the company I worked for were not quite as clued up as one might hope when it came to maternity entitlements. A couple of things to remember – firstly, if you work a standard office job you’re also entitled to any bank holidays, either as leave or pay, as you would ordinarily be paid for that time off. Financial benefits are the ONLY thing which aren’t protected so if you have a company car, mobile, healthcare, childcare vouchers, pension contributions etc, they should all stay exactly the same as they were even if you’re not being paid your full salary (and no deductions should be made from statutory pay for them either). Everything I read about car allowances said they are a bit of a grey area, so I did the opposite to you – gave mine up and took the company car instead!

    Also, if you’re not planning on going back afterwards and you receive enhanced pay, CHECK YOUR CONTRACT because some employers have a clause which say that you have to pay back any enhancements if you leave straight from maternity leave. And that can really mess up your financial planning!

    1. Gosh, I wish I had had you to ask about mine! I know friends who were caught out as were on enhanced pay and then didn’t want to go back. You really do need to know everything xx

  7. Always good for me to read these things, as I’ll be applying for Adoption Leave so when trawling through policies at work, it’s always that one further step to dig. I feel very lucky to have a supportive manager who allows me to treat meetings and assessments in the same way as if I had ante-natal appointments – an absolute godsend as so many employers allow just 5 days for introductions and nothing for the application process.

    The biggest challenge for me is that I wont get 9 months to plan my workload and handover. When/if we’re lucky enough to be approved and matched, things start moving pretty quickly after a long time of nothing… so I’m having to plan against some really uncertain timescales when it comes to work. I guess I’ll just have to see how it all goes!! xx

    1. This must be so hard Karen. My ocd nature wouldn’t be able to cope. That said Molly did arrive 4 weeks early so I wasn’t exactly prepared. I think you manage somehow so don’t panic! Good luck with it all xx

  8. If you’re not entitled to SMP then your employer will give you a form called an SMP1 saying why they think they don’t have to pay it. You then take this to Jobcentre Plus and they will tell you if you qualify for Maternity Allowance. You should also qualify for MA if you’re self-employed if you pay NICs.
    Just to echo Sara’s comment, if you get car allowance this counts as pay and as Lottie says, your terms and conditions relating to pay don’t continue during mat leave so this would usually stop. However if you get a company car, and you’re permitted to use it for personal and business use, your employer must continue to let you have this during your mat leave.

    1. I’d really recommend getting as clued up on your maternity leave as possible. I was shocked at how clueless my (very large!) Company’s HR departnent were and had to tell them what my rights were on more than a few occasions. Just to confuse matters further you can now choose to take shared parental leave instead of maternity leave. This means you share your maternity leave with your partner and it can potentially be more flexible (e.g. you can take leave at the same time or can take it in turns).

      1. Annie, My HR director of a global company was pretty useless! I basically told her what would happen after reading up on it. Didn’t fill me with confidence I have to say. I think may well cover the whole Paternity/Shared leave in a separate post. It’s just too much for one and I also think it’s so interesting how different people choose to use the leave. Definitely a great discussion post xx

        1. A post on shared paternity leave would be great. As i’m the main earner my husband and i are planning on sharing, so I will take 9 months, then he will have the last 3 months of leave – basically the period when statutory maternity pay runs out. Even though shared leave has been around for a couple of years we both seem to be the first in our companies to be utilising these rights. Definitely more publicity needed.

          1. I didn’t even know about it Rebecca so I will make it my mission to find out about it and get a post put together x

    2. Thank you so much for the details on the self employed issue Laura. I really wasn’t sure on this and I know there are so many people for who it applies. It’s great to know that you can still get something although I would never have known you have to go to the Job Centre Plus. xx

  9. Great post, Lottie – it’s a bit of a complicated minefield out there, especially when you had enhanced/company specific policies into the mix. I wanted to emphasise what Karen mentioned above – if you are receiving enhanced pay from your company, check the policy on returning to work and if you have to pay any enhanced pay back if you don’t return. I know a few people who have decided, while on mat leave, to not return to work only to be told that they have to pay back the full whack of enhanced pay, which can be quite a lot! At my firm, if I resign within 6 months of returning to work, I have to pay back 50% of the enhanced amount which will be the equivalent of around 3 months full pay.
    I also came across this website ( recently which I thought was really clever – they’re collating all of the mat and pat leave/pay policies across UK companies (incl how long you have to work there to qualify). This is really useful when you’re looking for a job but know you’d like to start a family as it’s diffficult to ask question about mat pay policies during the interview stage! 😉
    I’ve only got three weeks left before I go on mat leave for a year, eek…! 🙂

    1. Kate, thank you so much for this link. My company currently offer SMP but as part they are currently trying to understand how they can enhance that package (fingers crossed, for when the time hopefully comes). This is great benchmarking. Thank you!

    2. Yippee for a year off Kate. Enjoy every minute. Oooh, that website sounds great. I’d never heard of it but definitely a great idea. xx

  10. I’m about to go on maternity leave, and actually found that part pretty straightforward… What was not straightforward was shared parental leave, which is potentially a really important piece of the puzzle now. You can split your 50 weeks of leave after the first 2 compulsory ones in all sorts of ways. In our case I’m taking 6 months, then hubby is taking 3 months, and then I’m taking another 3 months. However, despite us both working for large employers nobody in HR seems to have figured out how it works. It’s a minefield… For mat leave, though, if it’s a decent sized employer just read all the documentation you can get your hands on and talk to HR. They’ve got that sorted at least… For shared parental leave, I hope other people are finding it more straightforward than us!

    1. Milly, this sounds a great way of splitting the leave. The whole shared parental thing has changed a lot since I went on Mat leave and think we need a whole other post on this as sounds like it could be a complicated one. I’ll add it to the list and hopefully you can get yours sorted soon xx

  11. Really interesting to read this!!!

    Would love to know peoples choices on maternity leave when running their own business. Whilst I may only be getting married this May, i’d love to know any advice for solo-preneurs and mat-leave! obviously i guess there’s more freedom but a bit more pressure as well. Would love to know what others chose to do and what they wished they had done! xx

  12. I had a bit of a funny situation… I opened my own company this last year and am now 18 weeks pregnant. Gah! Yay! I’ve done a lot of research as I was worried about how SMP worked – if I wasn’t working, then there’d be no money coming into my company, so how do I pay myself?!?! Luckily the Government cover this and do an ‘advanced funding’ where you basically loan the money from them. They say ‘loan’, but any money you pay yourself you don’t need to pay back. It’s all rather confusing but I’m glad to hear I’ll get a little bit of help.

    I would dream to have a year off with my child but, although I’m extremely grateful for the Government’s help, going down to £139.58 per week after the first 6 weeks of SMP, there’s just not enough money to cover all bills and food, let alone nappies and bits for the little one! Six weeks just doesn’t seem long enough to settle down and get used to looking after another human!

  13. Another couple of points which are super important and worth noting:

    1. You’re entitled to childcare vouchers from your employer throughout the duration of your maternity leave which will save you a fortune. Get them asap and get them banked in your electronic account (FYI you should do a post on childcare vouchers – this is a mind field most employers don’t tell you about until you’re back at work but by then you’ve lost out accruing hundreds of pounds worth of free childcare).
    2. I had to really hunt around for this info but you don’t pay tax on your £530 a month or whatever it is, even if you’ve paid 40% tax on your income for the first six months of maternity leave.
    3. You’re entitled to claim back tax from the April (end of the tax year) of your maternity leave. Obviously, because you’re on maternity leave you won’t be working the full year and using your full tax allowance. We got an extra rebate of about £3-4k which meant I could afford to take another few months off unpaid leave rather than rush back when statutory maternity leave ends at 9 months. You can apply for this from HMRC – you’ll get it automatically in July or August but if you apply you get it sooner.

    For those with their own businesses, its worth knowing that it might be worth setting up as a limited company and employing yourself back. Talk to an accountant but I seem to remember reading that small companies are paid 103% of maternity cover by the government.

    1. Rebecca, how did I not know all of this?!!! I so could have done with this at my old company. They just didn’t tell me anything. I now feel like I have missed out majorly. Rubbish but hopefully others will learn something from all these handy hints. Thanks so much for sharing. xxx

  14. I’d like to throw the new Shared Parental Leave into the mix!

    Me and my husband are sharing our leave 8 months /4 months and it was a total nightmare sorting it out… Perhaps an idea for another post!?!

    1. I’m 100% with you. My husband’s employer has been fine with it, but mine doesn’t have a clue. Crazy thing is that we both work for similar sized employers in the same sector.

    2. I am on the case with a post about this. I knew nothing about it and it is a such a great option but a shame no employer seems to know anything about it. Can see this being a really popular option xx

  15. Great post and echo the comments on shared parental leave. It is incredibly confusing, and each company seems to have a slightly different policy. I know a few people who are doing it currently and each one has been told totally different things by their HR department.

    We are incredibly lucky and my husband and I have taken time off together which has been wonderful. But we had to do a lot of research and calls to HR to get everything confirmed as we were the first to take it. Worth persevering if anyone is thinking about it.

    We decided to have time off together but I know of other couples where the mother is taking 6-9 months off and then going back to work with the father taking over.

    Hurray for modern parenting!

    1. This is such a great idea and I love that you have time off together. I really could have done with my husband being at home for longer, especially with our second. I love that there are so many new options out there x

  16. This was a really interesting and informative post!
    Rebecca – that is good to know about a limited company as my husband and I have a limited business together but I am clueless and had no idea about government funded maternity pay, will definitely have to read up about it more x

  17. Lottie I think you are wise to point out that each employer has slightly different rules as I’ve seen a couple of points that I don’t believe are the same for my situation- for example SMP is definitely taxable income (Rebecca you say it isn’t but not sure this is true according to HMRC-what you are taxed will be dependent on income over the course of the full tax year) and in terms of mat leave being classed as continuous employment, be careful here as my company policy is very clear that I need to have returned to work for so many weeks of continuous employment before I am entitled to company mat pay again. Being off is classed as continuous employment in terms of redundancy and being entitled to mat leave, but mat pay can work very differently. Had a few colleagues caught out this way as returned to work pregnant and then found out for baby two they would not get the mat pay they had previously.

    Also in terms of childcare vouchers-not all companies offer these and you can only start getting them once baby is born so would usually have to salary sacrifice to get them – so in my circumstance I do have to pay for them out of my gross earnings whilst off, I don’t get them for free as were not being claimed during my ‘qualifying weeks of pay’ (see HMRC for clarity on this)however there are tax benefits to be had.

    1. Thanks so much Alice. It’s all a minefield and so good to hear from different people who have had differing experiences. So many things to consider and ask about xx

  18. Great post, so clear. It was so confusing first time around to get my head around everything I was entitled to (or not!!)
    One key thing I must mention is that I assumed that I would be paid for doing KIT days and sadly my employer did not tell me in advance that I wouldn’t. They are not legally obligated to pay you for them (at this point I was taking additional maternity leave and receiving statutory maternity allowance which was a pittance and thought I could boost my money by working them). I found out the hard way, so make sure you check before doing any KIT days!! X

    1. Coral, this was one of my many issues! They said I would be paid then changed their mind after I’d already worked them. Grrrrr. Actually although the amount you should be paid isn’t specified in the legislation, you are working and therefore should be paid at least the national minimum wage. Arguably not paying you your usual rate of pay (especially if doing work you would normally do under your contract of employment) could be maternity discrimination since the only reason you’re not being paid is because you’re on maternity leave. The maternity action website is a really useful resource;

  19. Oh mat leave is such a minefield and so confusing! It really is beneficial getting as clued up as possible just so you know your rights.

    I know someone else mentioned it, but you should definitely look into your bank holidays. I was told I wasn’t entitled to get them paid other than at my sat rate, however this was not the case. My company had a 20 day holiday entitlement which meant I was eligible to be paid my bank holidays at my standard rate pre mat leave. In the end after a lot of emails back and forward I called ACAS to give me some clarification and a bit of backing when I went back to my employer. I got paid for them and it made a huge difference as my leave fell over Christmas and Spring, whoop!

    I highly recommend calling ACAS if you are confused as there is so much conflicting information out there. XX

  20. Does anyone know anything about Maternity leave policy if you are on a fixed term contract? I’m really worried I wont be entitled to anything if I am not a traditionally deemed ‘permanent’ member of staff?

  21. Do the self employed get any kind of maternity pay from the state? I’m a contractor……not sure but am assuming I get nothing?

  22. Hi I left my job in Fashion to go freelance last summer, I have the same Q as Sarah do i qualify for anything being self employed? Starting to worry a little…

  23. Hi. I’m trying to work out if I am better off giving up my company car. My projected car benefit amount for 2016/17 is £4104 (so that is taken off my tax free entitlement amount). I start my maternity leave at the beginning of July.
    We already have a car that I can use during mat leave so just trying to work out how much better off financially I would be if I gave up the company car.
    And also am I too late to make a difference – I’m sure I have read that SMP is calculated on your pay details during the 8 weeks leading up to the 15weeks before due date – which has now been and gone.
    Any help or advice is gratefully received – my company have no maternity policy and have just said it is the same as what is stated on the gov website!

  24. Nice blog post – I am thankful for the specifics ! Does someone know if my company might locate a blank FL New Hire Reporting form form to fill in ?

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