What is maternity leave and pay?

It seems incredible that as recently as the 1970s, a woman would often lose her job if she became pregnant

It was only in 1993 that all working women were permitted to take paid maternity leave in the UK.

Thankfully, most companies are now much more understanding when it comes to looking after pregnant women and new mothers in their employment.

Expectant mothers’ rights

To qualify for maternity leave, an employee needs to tell you about her pregnancy by the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC).

She then has the right to:

  1. a maximum of 52 weeks’ maternity leave
  2. up to 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay (SMP), or maternity allowance if she doesn’t qualify for SMP
  3. paid time off to attend antenatal appointments
  4. return to work under the same conditions and terms

Types of maternity leave

Maternity leave can be made up of three types of time off:

  1. Compulsory maternity leave (CML) — the two weeks following the birth. As the name suggests, all new mothers must take this period of leave.
  2. Ordinary maternity leave (OML) — the first 26 weeks of maternity leave. After OML, employees can return to their job exactly as before.
  3. Additional maternity leave (AML) — the following 26 weeks of maternity leave. This is optional, and after AML an employee’s rights change slightly. She can be offered an equivalent role if your company is unable to give back her previous job.

The length and type of maternity leave will vary between companies, and between individuals. It helps to keep an open dialogue with your employee, since her plans may change throughout the course of the maternity leave period. She has the right to change her return date by giving eight weeks’ written notice.

Maternity Leave Pay

There are three main types of pay that an employee can receive during their maternity leave: Statutory Maternity Pay, Occupational Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

This is payable for 39 weeks, as long as the mother has been continuously employed for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the EWC.

For the first six weeks, the value of SMP is 90% of average weekly earnings. For the following 33 weeks (if taken as leave), it is paid at the lower statutory level of £151.20 per week or 90% of the average weekly earnings, if this is lower.

Occupational Maternity Pay (OMP)

Your company may ‘top up’ the mother’s SMP with Occupational Maternity Pay. This is discretionary, and may have different conditions from SMP which should be available in writing.

Maternity Allowance

Maternity Allowance is a state benefit paid to women who do not qualify for SMP. To qualify, they should have been employed for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks preceding the EWC.

Preparing for maternity cover

Planning maternity cover is good for business continuity. You can recruit on a temporary or contract basis to cover some, or all, of the absent employee’s responsibilities. Remember the employee on maternity has the right to resume her job after maternity leave.

Keeping in touch (KIT)

You can arrange up to ten KIT days with the employee on maternity leave. These are a useful way to maintain links between your company and the mother. They do not affect her entitlement to maternity pay, and may even be paid additionally.


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