Navigating the complexities of maternity leave can be difficult. With so much to keep track of in terms of work, it’s easy to forget to enjoy your pregnancy. Therefore, we have put together all the information you need to know in one place so you can focus on what matters most. 

Maternity Leave Explained

From maternity leave and pay to pregnancy-related illnesses, we’ll take you through the essential information. Plus, we offer some advice on informing your employer.

Statutory Maternity Leave

If you are in employment and are pregnant, you are entitled to a year (or 52 weeks) of maternity leave in the UK. This allowance is not impacted by the length of time you have been employed by your company.

Statutory maternity leave is broken up into two distinct periods. The first half of the year (or 26 weeks) is called ordinary maternity leave. The second half of the year, weeks 27 to 52, is known as additional maternity leave. Each period is compensated differently.

Compulsory Maternity Leave

Should you decide against taking statutory leave, you will still be required to take compulsory maternity leave. This is 2 weeks of leave, or 4 weeks if you are working in a factory.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

Employees are eligible for SMP if they have been working for 26 weeks for the same employer before their ‘qualifying week’. The qualifying week is counted as 15 weeks before the baby’s due date. Employees must also earn at least £123 a week on average for 8 weeks before their qualifying week. If you meet both of these requirements, you will be eligible for SMP. However, if not, you might be able to get Maternity Allowance. For further information on this, you can check out’s section on Maternity Allowance.

Throughout statutory maternity leave, the employer is liable to pay a percentage of your weekly earnings (before tax) for up to 39 weeks. This equates to 90% of your weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks and £156.66 per week for the following 33 weeks. If £156.66 is higher than 90% of your weekly earnings, the employer will pay just 90% of your weekly earnings.

You will receive SMP in the same way as your normal wages (e.g. monthly or weekly). Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.

Maternity Leave Start Date

The start date for statutory maternity leave is agreed upon between you and your employer. The earliest you can agree to start your leave is 11 weeks before the due date.

Only two instances would override the agreement made between yourself and your employer.

  1.  If the baby is born before the agreed leave date. In this situation, leave will commence the day following the birth.
  2. If the pregnant person has any pregnancy-related illnesses in the 4 weeks before the baby is due. In this case, statutory leave will commence automatically.

While pregnant and on maternity leave, you have a range of extended employment rights. To read more details about these, take a look at our guide on Pregnancy and Work.

Informing Your Employer

In order to be eligible for paid maternity leave, you must inform your employer of your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the due date. Or, if you did not know about the pregnancy until after that point, you must tell your employer as soon as possible.

It’s recommended to tell them in writing. You must tell your employer the following:

  • you’re pregnant
  • the date of the week your baby is due (your employer may ask to see a medical certificate or ‘MAT B1 form’. You can get this from your doctor or midwife once you’re 20 weeks pregnant)
  • the date you want to start your maternity leave

To change your return date for statutory leave, you must inform your employer at least 8 weeks in advance of the agreed return date.

Pregnancy-Related Illnesses

If you are ill while you are pregnant, you must follow regular sick leave procedures as outlined in your employment agreement.

However, an employer cannot reprimand or dismiss you for taking too much sick leave if it is related to your pregnancy. In turn, a pregnancy-related illness cannot be counted on your sickness record. Therefore, it can’t be taken into account with regard to promotions or other performance assessments.

If the pregnancy-related illness occurs within 4 weeks of the due date, it will automatically trigger the beginning of your statutory maternity leave.

Key Takeaways

With so much on your mind during pregnancy, keeping on top of work-related issues can save you a lot of unnecessary stress. Remember to follow these simple steps and be aware of your rights as a pregnant employee. In this way, you can relax during your maternity leave and enjoy life with your new baby.

Check out Refreshing a Career’s dedicated section on Parenthood for more information on areas like Paternity Leave and Adoption Leave. Our Support and Resources section is there if you need some extra help or advice.

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