All women who are pregnant and employed in the United Kingdom are eligible to 52 weeks of maternity leave, without regard to their length of employment with a company. The first 26 weeks are considered ordinary maternity leave and the second 26 weeks are considered additional maternity leave. Taking the entire 52 weeks is not required but women must take a leave of two weeks after their baby is born and four weeks if they work in a factory.
Women who are pregnant can get additional paid time off for antenatal care. This care can include medical appointments and parenting classes if such classes were recommended by a midwife or doctor. Women are to be paid their normal rate of pay for such antenatal care as stipulated by law.
If a woman is off work for an illness related to her pregnancy in the four weeks before the baby is due, maternity leave can begin immediately. Otherwise, the earliest a woman can take her maternity leave is 11 weeks before the week when the child is expected to be born.
During the period of leave, woman are entitled to statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks. During the first six weeks, women receive 90 per cent of the average weekly earnings before tax and 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings or £138.18 for the remaining 33 weeks, whichever is lower. Statutory maternity pay is paid out either weekly or monthly as per the same way that regular wages are paid.
There are some qualifications for statutory maternity pay. A woman needs to earn at least £111 a week; let her employer know at least 15 weeks before the due date when the baby is due and when maternity leave is planned; show proof of pregnancy, such as a letter from a doctor or midwife; and have work continuously for her employer at least 26 weeks up to the 15th week before the week the child is expected to be born.
A woman also needs to let her employer know when she wants to stop working so she can have her baby and when she wants her statutory maternity pay to start. This needs to be done at least 28 days before the start and preferably in writing. The employer in turn is required to let a woman know when her statutory mandatory pay will be and when it will start.
In addition, during the time a woman is on maternity leave, her contract and terms of agreement for her employment cannot be changed without her agreement. Pension contributions are protected as well. All other employment rights of the woman are also protected including pay raises, accrual of holiday time and the right to return to work. There are additional rights if a woman’s job is made redundant while she is on leave.
There are times when companies have their own maternity schemes and so a woman can get more than the statutory amount of leave and pay but she cannot get any less than stipulated by the government. For more information go to www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave for more information.