Career Woman

Maternity leave laws: what you need to know


This guide outlines employee rights in maternity leave laws, and what employers should heed.

As an employer, it can be important to understand your employee’s rights with maternity leave laws. In the UK, it is a statutory right for expectant mothers to have time off to both give birth to, and subsequently take care of, their newborns before they return to work after maternity leave.

In the case of ordinary maternity leave, known as (OML), 26 weeks is the standard leave time, but with additional maternity leave (AML), another 26 weeks is added on to make a total of 52 weeks. This time is allocated for all employees no matter how long they have been at the company, as long as you are notified by them 15 weeks in advance of either the week the baby is due or when the individual intends to start their leave (which can be up to 11 weeks before the due date).

It is important to note that only those under an employment contract are eligible under maternity leave laws; those employed on a casual basis, via an agency, or on a zero-hours contract are not.

Rights under maternity leave laws

Employers will be expected to exercise general employment rights and benefits to those on maternity leave, including:

  • The right to be informed of changes within the company such as organisational restructuring or modifications to the job role or typical working conditions
  • The right to be paid
  • The right to be informed about promotions with enough time to apply
  • The right to receive any pay rises, bonuses, or relevant company benefits
  • The right to accumulate holiday time

Types of pay under maternity leave laws

Employers will have the option to pay employees for maternity leave via enhanced (also known as contractual) maternity pay or via statutory maternity pay (SMP). SMP is the minimum amount you are legally required to pay – and the amount you have to allocate should be around 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks of maternity leave and either the same or £156.66 for the following 33 weeks (whichever is lower).

When to seek expert help

It can be worthwhile to get advice from an employment lawyer if you are unsure about anything relating to maternity leave and pay, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

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