workingmums.co.uk guide to maternity leave

workingmums.co.uk outlines your rights when it comes to maternity leave and pregnancy/maternity discrimination.

Pregnant, pregnancy, scan, ultrasound, maternity

a Pregnant girl doing on ultrasound examination

What are your rights when you go on maternity leave? Does it matter legally how long you go on leave for? What protections do you have when returning to work? workingmums.co.uk’s guide outlines your main rights.

Employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave. They can choose how much they want to take, but they must take the first two weeks after the birth off [four weeks if they are a factory worker].

The first 26 weeks of maternity leave is known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’.

The earliest leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth.

Employers will assume you will take 52 weeks off if you do not give a return date, but if you change your mind and want to come back earlier you should give at least eight weeks’ notice.

If you do not want to return, you should hand in your notice in the normal way.

Can I be expected to work during my maternity leave?

Employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity, adoption or Shared Parental Leave. These days are called ‘keeping in touch days’.

Keeping in touch days are optional, both the employee and employer need to agree to them. The type of work and pay employees get should be agreed before they come into work. The employee’s right to maternity, adoption or Shared Parental Leave and pay isn’t affected by taking keeping in touch days.

Holidays and maternity leave

Employees continue to build up their regular holiday entitlement and can take any holiday they have accrued before or after their leave in agreement with their employer. The employer may refuse to let them take it at a specific time, for instance, during a very busy period, but they must ensure that the holiday is not lost. There are often questions about whether bank holidays should be counted in this leave. The law allows for bank holidays which are part of statutory annual leave – ie 28 days for full-time workers, to be carried over. It is less clear on additional contractual holiday. Our employment expert here argues that if bank holidays are generally included as part of paid leave they should continue to be accrued on maternity leave.

Can the terms and conditions of my employment be changed whilst I am away?

Normally, the employment terms and conditions are protected and employees are entitled to any pay rises and improvements in terms and conditions given during their leave. Pension contributions usually stop if a period of leave is unpaid.

Employees have the right to return to their job if they take Ordinary Maternity, Ordinary Adoption leave or Shared Parental Leave.

The rules are different if the employee takes Additional Maternity or Additional Adoption Leave. In this situation, employees have the right to their job or a similar job (if there is a good reason why it is not possible to give them their old job, for instance, not because it has been given to their maternity cover). Similar means the job has the same or better terms and conditions.

If the employee unreasonably refuses to take the similar job the employer can take this as a form of resignation.

An employer cannot decide to change your job without consultation and getting your agreement.

Can I be made redundant whilst on maternity leave?

While an employee is on maternity or adoption leave or Shared Parental Leave they have the same redundancy rights as their colleagues plus the right to be offered any suitable alternative job if they are selected for redundancy – even if other colleagues are more suitable for the role, they get priority.

An employee can only be made redundant if the employer can clearly justify this, for instance, as part of a general business restructure.

If it is clear that the employer is making a person redundant simply because of their pregnancy or maternity leave, because they are a parent or because they have requested flexible working that would be discriminatory and thus unlawful.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of a ‘protected characteristic’ , which includes being pregnant or having a child or because of your gender.

Discrimination can come in one of the following forms:

  • direct discrimination – treating someone less favourably than others (reducing their salary or responsibilities )
  • indirect discrimination – putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone, like a mother, at an unfair disadvantage
  • harassment – unwanted behaviour that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive environment for them. This can be physical contact or jokes or aggressive actions
  • victimisation – treating someone unfairly because they have complained about discrimination or harassment

If you have suffered any form of discrimination or suspect that this is the case you will have the right to issue a written grievance  and issue a claim at the employment tribunal.



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