12 September 2011
Posted by Lisa Wood
Planning your maternity leave can be quite an exciting and emotional time. For many, not only are you coming to terms with being pregnant but you've got to think about telling your employer, when you want to leave work and even when you'll come back! All this is so much easier if you know your rights before you start making decisions.
Eligibility for Maternity Leave
If you are pregnant and work either full or part-time as an 'employee' you are entitled to maternity leave so you can take time off when your baby arrives. Your entitlement to take this time off isn't dependant on how long you've been with your employer. However, eligibility for pay during your maternity is different, you can find out more about Statutory Maternity Pay here and Maternity Allowance here.
Telling your employer
It's up to you to choose when you tell your employer but you must have told them in writing 15 weeks before the week of your due date - start on the Monday of the week before your due date and count back 15 weeks.
With your letter you need to include your original MAT B1 form that your midwife or doctor will have given you at your 21 week appointment this will confirm your due date. In the letter you should also include when you want your Maternity Leave to start and if you're going to claim Statutory Maternity Pay. This date isn't set in stone, but if you want to change it you need to give at least 28 days notice.
You can download a letter template here.
How long do you get
At the very least you must take a minimum of two weeks off work immediately following the birth."
The duration of your leave depends on what you agree with your individual employer but you can take a maximum of 52 weeks, this is made up of 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave. The first two weeks directly after the birth are compulsory and you must take this time off! Provided you are classed as an 'employee' you will be entitled to the full amount of leave regardless of how long you have been employed - if you're not sure if you're an 'employee' you can check your employment status here.
As soon as you tell your employer you are pregnant they should do a risk assessment on your working conditions and ensure that they are suitable for you during your pregnancy. If they are not and they can make a change, which could be as simple as giving you a more comfortable chair then they should do this straight away. In some extreme cases removing you from risk may not be possible in which case your employer should then suspend you from work on full pay.
You are legally entitled to take a reasonable amount of paid time off during your pregnancy for your antenatal care. This is not restricted to just your medical examinations, if your doctor recommends parentcraft or relaxation classes then you can attend these aswell but you should try to arrange them outside of working hours where possible. Your partner doesn't have these same legal rights, however, their employer may let them take the time off to join you if they make it up later.
Your normal rights are protected throughout your pregnancy and your maternity leave and your employer can't change your employment terms and conditions without your agreement. When you return to work after your Ordinary Maternity Leave you should be offered your old job back with the same terms and conditions. However, if you return during or after your Additonal Maternity Leave and your employer proves that it is not possible to give you your old job back they must offer you a similar job with the same terms and conditions of your old job.
Your statutory holiday entitlement still accrues during your Maternity Leave and you are entitled to take it in addition to your Maternity Leave. You can't take it during your Maternity Leave though, it has to be taken either at the beginning or end and will be paid at your contracted level of annual holiday pay not at the Statutory Maternity Pay level.
If you decide during your leave that you don't want to go back to work you must tell your employer according to your contract. For example if you decide you don't want to go back at the end of your 52 weeks leave and your contract states you have to give four weeks notice you must tell your employer by the end of week 48.
Starting Maternity Leave
The earliest your Maternity Leave can start is the 11th week before your baby is due. It's handy to know that Maternity Leave starts from the day you leave work, not from the day your baby is born (but it cannot start later), so you may want to leave it until closer to the birth and have longer with your baby afterwards. Your finances might be another factor in your decision to wait until later, don't forget Statutory Maternity Pay only entitles you to 90% of your full salary for the first six weeks of Maternity Leave before Statutory levels apply so you may want to stay earning your full salary for as long as possible before this happens.
Sharing your Maternity Leave
New rules now mean you can swap up to 6 months of your remaining Maternity Leave with your partner."
Under new rules, as of April 2011, if you want to go back to full time work after the baby is 20 weeks old you have the option to swap up to 26 weeks of your Maternity Leave with your partner for them to use as additional Paternity Leave which must be taken by the baby's first birthday.
If your partner is also classed as an 'employee' where they work they should be able to receive any remaining Statutory Maternity Pay that you would have been entitled to during this period, paid as additional statutory Paternity Pay.
Watch our Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave videos to find out more. Bear in mind that your individual circumstances may differ so you should check with your own personnel department.