Maternity rights – all you need to know

If you are expecting a baby, you are no doubt happy and excited. But you might also be a little anxious.



There’s lots to think about, such as your own and the baby’s health. Perhaps you also plan to move to a bigger house. And what about work? Your boss might not be overjoyed at the news of your pregnancy, so it’s worth knowing and understanding your maternity rights.

Maternity pay

This is a big topic that warrants an article of its own, so click here to find out more.

Telling your employer

Many people are worried about telling their employer about their pregnancy – and you don’t have to make an announcement immediately. However, the company is entitled to some notice and you must inform your employer that you are expecting at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due.

Antenatal care

Once you have told your employer that you are pregnant, you are entitled to take paid time off for antenatal care.

So, if you have an appointment with the midwife or doctor, you are legally entitled to take the time off work and should receive the normal rate of pay. Antenatal care can also include antenatal classes, as long as they have been recommended by a doctor or midwife.

Father of the baby

Fathers and partners also have the right to take time off to attend antenatal appointments. The law allows them to attend up to two appointments but they should not expect to be paid.

Health and safety

Employers have a duty to safeguard the health and safety of pregnant employees. An expectant mother should not, for example, lift or carry heavy objects or stand for long periods without a break.

If your job puts your health and safety at risk, your employer must either find suitable alternative work, perhaps changing your hours or your role within the company, or suspend you on full pay.

This might be one reason to tell your employer sooner rather than later that you are pregnant.

Potential conflict

No pregnant woman wants to put her baby at risk, which means health and safety issues can lead to conflict with employers.

You can find full details of the regulations on the website of the Health & Safety Executive, and you should contact your health and safety or trade union representative in the event of any dispute.

Statutory maternity leave

All pregnant employees are entitled to statutory maternity leave, no matter how long they have worked for their employer, the hours they work, or their salary.

In other words, you can take statutory maternity leave whether you joined the company yesterday or ten years ago, work full time or part time, on a high salary or the minimum wage. However, you must be an employee, rather than a contract worker or self employed.

If you are unsure about your employment status, contact your human resources department.  

How many weeks?

Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, but is divided into two parts.

The first 26 weeks are ordinary maternity leave; the second 26 weeks are additional maternity leave.

The leave entitlement is generous and you don’t have to take the full 52 weeks, but you must by law take at least two weeks after the baby is born, or four if you work in a factory.

Earliest leave date

You might think that maternity leave would start after the birth of your baby, but it can begin before the baby is born. You can decide the most convenient date for you and your employer, but the earliest leave date is usually 11 weeks before the week of the expected birth.

Notice of leave

It wouldn’t be fair to spring your absence on your employer at short notice so you must tell your boss when you want your maternity leave to start at least 15 weeks before your due date – the same date when you must also tell your employer about your pregnancy if you have not already done so.

If you change your mind about the start date, you must give your employer 28 days’ notice. Your employer must then write to you within 28 days confirming the start and end dates of your maternity leave.

If you want to change the date you plan to return to work, you must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice.

Automatic leave

There are some circumstances when you do not have control over the start date of your maternity leave. If the baby is early, leave begins the day after the birth.

Maternity leave also starts automatically if you are off work with an illness related to your pregnancy in the four weeks prior to the week of your due date.

Job security

Job security is a big worry for expectant mothers, but an employer cannot sack someone simply because they are pregnant or on maternity leave. They are also entitled to any pay rises and improvement in employment terms and conditions.

In addition, employees on maternity leave also have the same redundancy rights as colleagues who are sitting in the office. In other words, you can only be made redundant if there is a clear business reason.

Employment protection

The law offers further protection to new mums. Your employer cannot, for example, change the terms and conditions of your contract without your consent. The company must also keep up contributions to your workplace pension while you are on paid maternity leave, though it is not obliged to pay into your pension during unpaid leave.

Plus, you continue to build up holiday entitlement and can take holiday before or after your maternity leave. In fact, many women save up holiday and tag it onto their statutory maternity leave, giving them more time to spend with the baby.

Returning to work

Many women return to work after maternity leave, either through choice or financial necessity. So can you simply walk into your old job? The answer is yes – as long as you have taken only ordinary maternity leave of up to 26 weeks.

If you have taken the full 52 weeks of additional maternity leave, you have the right to either your old job or a similar job, with the same or better terms and conditions. 

Keeping in touch

You don’t have to lose touch with the office completely while you are on maternity leave as employees can work up to 10 paid days, without affecting their rights to leave or pay.

Don’t worry, though, as the days are optional and must be agreed by both the employee and the employer. So, you can forget all about work if you prefer and concentrate instead on your new little bundle of joy.

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