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Returning to work after maternity leave

New mothers returning to work after time out to care for their new child do have employment rights and responsibilities and they should be aware of them to make sure their employer is acting in the right way.

Statutory maternity leave lasts for a maximum of 52 weeks and consists of:

  • 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave
  • 26 weeks of additional maternity leave 

Ordinary maternity leave – during this first 26 weeks you will receive the same rights under your contract of employment as if you are still at work, so you can still build up holiday and receive any wage rises owed. However, you will not receive your normal pay unless your contract allows for it.

Additional maternity leave – after that first 26 weeks you can take an additional 26 weeks, though this must follow on directly from the ordinary leave and the terms and conditions of your employment remain the same throughout.

Some basic principles relating to ordinary and additional maternity leave:

  • A woman who has only taken the 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave will have the right to return to the same job she had before she left, on the same terms as before or terms which are not less favourable.
  • If it is not possible for the woman returning after additional maternity leave to return to the same job, the employer must allow her to return to an alternative job on terms and conditions not less favourable than she had enjoyed before going on maternity leave.
  • If the woman cannot return to her old job because of redundancy, she has a right to be offered any suitable vacancy on terms and conditions no less favourable than had been the case in her old job.

Before going on maternity leave you should tell the employer how long you intend to take off; unless you tell them they will assume that you are intending to take all 52 weeks. If you are not going to take all 52 weeks you will have to give your employer eight weeks notice before returning.

If you have decided not to return to work after maternity leave you will still have to give your employer the required amount of notice, but you will still be entitled to receive the full amount of maternity leave and pay.

When to tell work

To take maternity leave you will have to inform your employer no later than the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due. If this is not possible for whatever reason tell them as soon as you can. You should inform your employer that you are pregnant and tell them when the baby is due and when you wish to start your maternity leave. This can begin any time from 11 weeks before the beginning of the week when the baby is due.

Your employer may ask for a MAT B1 form which will confirm the details of the pregnancy and the leave to be taken and these can be supplied by a doctor or midwife once you reach the 21st week of your pregnancy. The employer will then be expected to write to you within 28 days to confirm the dates of the statutory maternity leave.