Family is important to many people, so providing a maternity leave and pay isn’t just something you’re legally obliged to do.

It’s also a key part of your efforts to retain your best talent and maintain a happy workforce.

But you still need to get the basics right. Our employment law advice can help there, which offers a fast route to solving your HR issues.

Or you can use this guide, which provides details on who’s eligible, for how long, and other important details.

What's the law on maternity leave?

An employee’s rights don’t change during their maternity leave. This includes across the following:

  • Holiday days.
  • Right to pay.
  • Redundancy rights.
  • The right to return to their role.

With holidays, maternity leave builds up as normal for the employee. But if a member of staff can’t take a holiday due to being on maternity leave, you should let them carry over any of their days they didn’t use.

If an employee’s job is no longer available when they return from maternity leave, you must offer them a suitable alternative.

The alternative job must provide equal or better pay and conditions.

Who has entitlements to statutory maternity leave and maternity pay?

To be eligible for a statutory maternity leave entitlement, employees must:

  • Have an employment contract with your organisation.
  • Tell you about their impending bundle of joy at least 15 weeks before their due date.

Employees may also be eligible for statutory maternity pay in the UK (SMP) if they:

  • Were on your payroll in the qualifying week, which is the 15th week before their due date.
  • Worked for you for at least 26 weeks continuously up to the qualifying week
  • Provide proof that they’re pregnant, in the form of a doctor’s MATB1 maternity certificate.
  • Earn at least £118 per week on average in the eight weeks before the qualifying week.
  • Give at least 28 days’ notice of the date they want SMP to begin. Or as soon as reasonably practicable is this isn’t possible.

What if the employee is late in providing notice?

If an employee is late in telling you about their pregnancy, you can delay the start date of their maternity leave or maternity pay in the UK.

But you can’t refuse maternity leave, or the change amount of leave the employee wants to take.

How much maternity pay do employees receive?

An eligible employee can take up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave. The first 26 weeks are “ordinary maternity leave”. The last 26 weeks are “additional maternity leave”.

It’s common for this issue to confuse businesses, so advice on maternity pay is in high demand.

A common example is how long do you get maternity pay for? It’s in payments for up to 39 weeks, with the first six weeks at 90% of your average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax.

For the remaining 33 weeks, they’ll receive pay of £148.68 per week—or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower). These figures came into effect from 5th April 2019.

There are legal requirements for employees to take at least two weeks of maternity leave directly after the birth. Factory workers must take four weeks.

Employees can begin their maternity leave 11 weeks before their baby’s due date.

What happens in different circumstances?

If an employee’s baby is born prematurely, maternity leave starts the day after the baby is born.

The employee should show you proof of the baby’s birth date, such as the birth certificate.

If the baby dies after birth, or is stillborn after the start of the 24th week of pregnancy, the employee keeps the same eligibility for maternity leave or pay.

Keeping HMRC records and reclaiming SMP

It’s important that pregnant employees do give you a doctor’s note or MATB1 certificate, because you need to keep this and other records for HMRC. Other records you need to keep include:

  • The date the employee's SMP began.
  • Your SMP payments.
  • SMP you’ve reclaimed from HRMC (you can usually reclaim between 92% and 103%).

Need our help?

As it can be a complex issue, we can take you through maternity leave and SMP. We’ll help you understand the full requirements: 0800 783 2806.