When must I give notice of a start date for maternity leave?

I have just started a new job and am in the trial period, but have discovered I was pregnant when I started the job. Do I have to inform my employer of when I want to start maternity leave? If I have not done this by the 26th week, what happens? Do I forfeit my maternity leave?

The best thing you can do is to speak to your employer as soon as possible to clarify when you intend to start your maternity leave.

In order to claim your statutory maternity leave entitlement you should notify your employer of (i) the fact that you are pregnant, (ii) your expected due date, and (iii) the date you intend to start your maternity leave, no later than the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth (EWC). However, any mistake in providing this notice, particularly in relation to the start date of your maternity leave, does not mean that you will not be entitled to take your leave. It may simply impact upon the day on which it starts.

Having already informed your employer of your pregnancy and EWC, your maternity leave will automatically start on the day after you give birth. In that case, you must inform your employer as soon as possible once you have given birth. You would not be expected to do this on the day itself, but you should not allow the issue to drift or there may be a risk that your employer states that your leave is not authorised.

The great disadvantage of relying upon the automatic start date is that you will not be entitled to take any time off before the date of birth as maternity leave. You could agree to use some of your holiday entitlement before the due date. However, this can sometimes be difficult to manage given you can never be 100% confident that your baby will be born on its due date.

With this in mind, it is best to speak to and clarify the situation with your employer as soon as possible. They may be willing to agree a start date with you, which might include you using some of your holiday entitlement. Alternatively, you may find that they had assumed you would start on your due date or a time shortly before when you provided the other information with your MATB1 form, and accepted this as the required notice.

If that is the case, but you would prefer to start maternity leave on a different date, you are entitled to vary the start date. To do so you must provide at least 28 days’ notice of your revised start date. Alternatively, they may be happy to agree a convenient start date with you.

You should not delay this discussion until after the completion of your trial period. Your employer needs to be able to plan for your absence whilst on maternity leave and so should appreciate being kept informed. Plus, your pregnancy and decision to take maternity leave should have no influence on your employer’s decision to confirm the successful completion of your probation period or otherwise. If your employer decided to dismiss you or treated you unfavourably because of your pregnancy then you may be able to pursue a claim against them for maternity related discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Finally, none of this should have any impact on your rights to receive statutory payments during your maternity leave. As you have been with your employer for a relatively short time you will not qualify for maternity pay. However, you may still be eligible for maternity allowance. Again, you should make an application to confirm your eligibility as soon as possible.

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