Family is important to a lot of people. So providing a maternity leave allowance 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.
That said, you still need to get the basics right. On this page you can find out who is eligible for a maternity allowance, for how long, and all the other important details.
Who is entitled 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 (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 £116 per week
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. But you can’t refuse maternity leave, or the change amount of leave the employee wants to take.
How much maternity leave entitlement does an employee have?
An eligible employee can take up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave. The first 26 weeks are known as ‘ordinary maternity leave.’ The last 26 weeks are known as ‘additional maternity leave.’
Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is usually paid 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, you'll be paid £145.18 or 90% of your AWE (whichever is lower).
Employees are legally required to take at least two weeks of maternity leave directly after the birth. Factory workers are required to take four weeks.
Employees can begin their maternity leave 11 weeks before their baby’s due date.
What happens in unusual or tragic 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, and SMP you’ve reclaimed from HRMC. You can usually reclaim between 92% and 103% of employee’s SMP.
Employment rights during maternity leave
An employee’s rights, such as the right to holidays, the right to pay, redundancy rights, and the right to return to their job, are unaffected during maternity leave.
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.