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Statutory maternity leave is the amount of time employees can have off work after having a baby. It is compulsory to take the first two weeks after birth [or four weeks for those working in a factory] to recover. Employees can have up to 52 weeks of leave in total, made up of ordinary maternity leave [the first 26 weeks] and additional maternity leave [the last 26 weeks].
You will tell your employer on your MAT B1 form when you plan to take your leave and for how long. If you don’t state this your employer will assume you are taking the whole 52 weeks off. If you wish to change the date you end your leave, you must give eight weeks notice. The earliest you can start your leave is usually 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. If the baby comes early your leave will start the day after the birth. If you have a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before your due week your leave will start from then. You can also send a letter to confirm your maternity leave dates.
Your rights are protected while on Statutory Maternity Leave. That includes your terms and conditions, any pay rises or improvements in terms and conditions, redundancy rights and your right to return to your job after ordinary maternity leave and to your own job or a suitable alternative if this no longer exists [for instance, due to redundancy; not because it has been given to your maternity cover] after additional maternity leave. You continue to build up holiday while on maternity leave and can negotiate with your employer to add this onto the end of your maternity leave if you want to.
For information on maternity pay, including Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance [for self-employed mothers and those not eligible for SMP], click here. Some employers will enhance SMP and you will need to check their maternity policy for any conditions attached, for instance, some make you pay back the enhanced amount [but not the SMP] if you do not return after maternity leave for a specified time. You may also qualify for tax credits and a Sure Start Maternity Grant [for first babies] of £500. The Government’s benefits calculator will tell you what extra financial help you might be entitled to.