Navigating the complexities of maternity leave can be difficult. Luckily, we have compiled it all into one guide below.

Statutory maternity leave

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

Statutory maternity leave is broken up into two distinct periods, with differences in compensation. 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.

Throughout statutory maternity leave the employer is liable to pay some of your weekly earnings (before tax) for up to 39 weeks. This involves 90% of your weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, and then £151.20 per week for the following 33 weeks. If £151.20 is higher than 90% of your weekly earnings, the employer will pay just 90% of your weekly earnings.

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

There are only two instances that would override the agreement made between yourself and your employer. First is if the baby is born before the agreed leave date, at which point leave will commence the day following the birth. Second, should the pregnant person have any pregnancy-related illnesses in the 4 weeks before the baby is due, statutory maternity leave will commence automatically.

Whilst pregnant and on maternity leave you have a range of extended employment rights. To read more details about these, go to our guide about pregnancy and work.

Compulsory maternity leave

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

Informing your employer

To be eligible for paid maternity leave, you must inform your employer of your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the due date. Should you find out that you are pregnant after 15 weeks prior to the due date, you must inform your employer as soon as possible.

The employer has a right to see the medical certificate with the due date should they ask, and to know the date you are going to start statutory maternity leave should you take it.

To change your return date for statutory maternity 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 that illness is related to the pregnancy. In turn, a pregnancy-related illness cannot be counted on your sickness record and therefore cannot be taken into account with regards to promotions or other performance assessments.

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