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:

  • a maximum of 52 weeks’ maternity leave
  • up to 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay (SMP), or maternity allowance if she doesn’t qualify for SMP
  • paid time off to attend antenatal appointments
  • 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:

  • Compulsory maternity leave (CML) — the two weeks following the birth. As the name suggests, all new mothers must take this period of leave.
  • Ordinary maternity leave (OML) — the first 26 weeks of maternity leave. After OML, employees can return to their job exactly as before.
  • 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.

Share this article

More on leave and absence

The Benefits of Using a Clocking In App

The working hours of your staff are fundamental to a profitable business. If staff are consistently early or late, it can have a negative…

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave

It's a grim reality that some of your staff will lose their loved ones while working for you. In these instances, people need time off to…

What you need to know about time off in lieu of overtime

What is time off in lieu (TOIL) of overtime? Time off in lieu (TOIL) of overtime is where you agree with your employee that you'll reward…

What is the Bradford Factor?

The Bradford Factor is a simple formula that lets you monitor employee absenteeism over a set period, such as the current business year…

What does sick leave mean for your business?

If you're looking for up-to-date information on COVID-19 and sick pay, please visit our coronavirus factsheet. The average UK employee…

Types of Clocking in Systems

If your business has hourly employees then you’ll need a system to help with clocking in and out. One that monitors start and finish times…

Absenteeism in the workplace

How do you define absenteeism? For us at BrightHR, absenteeism in the workplace is where an employee frequently doesn't turn up for work, to…

Do you have an absence management policy?

Bad news: sometimes your staff are going to be off sick . But fear not! At the end of this guide, you'll know all you need to know about…

Employee annual leave

It’s generally agreed that a healthy balance between work and time off is essential for a healthy and happy workforce. Your organisation…

Presenteeism in the workplace

There’s a new-fangled practice in the business world. It’s “presenteeism” and some employees, and potentially even business owners, think it…

Garden Leave

This peculiar term causes quite a lot of confusion in the business world. It throws up images of employees taking time off to tend to their…

What is the purpose of parental leave?

Thankfully, employees in the UK can request unpaid time off to take care of their children’s needs up until their 18th birthday. This is…

Employee returning to work after suspension

When you suspend a member of staff, they’re still employed for you but don’t attend work. In fact, they should do no work for you at all…

Holiday request forms

The unpredictability of staff absences can make it a challenging HR task—and a costly one. The average UK worker is absent almost seven days…

Are your employees skiving?

Whether they're skiving at work or they're pulling a sickie away from the office, an employee not doing their job properly will count as…

What to do when an employee suffers long-term sickness

The first step is to establish a clear and precise criteria for long term sickness — which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. The…

How should you manage unauthorised absence?

What is unauthorised absence? Unauthorised absence is when one of your staff fails to come to work without a good reason. It goes without…

Returning to work

Whether your employee has been away on sabbatical, has been taken ill, or has been raising a newborn, it will take time for them to readjust…

Furlough guide for employers

Furlough is now a business buzzword. Most professionals hadn’t heard of it before—now it’s everywhere and you can’t avoid it. For businesses…

Time off for stress

Most of us deal with stress on a daily basis, often in the workplace. But for some—over a long period of time—it can become overwhelming…

Flexible furlough scheme

The coronavirus lockdown situation is changing rapidly. And with it, the UK government is making adjustments to the Job Retention Scheme…

Clocking in and out systems for small businesses

Although it may seem like a minor part of your business’ daily routine, how your employees arrive and leave is essential. When they clock in…