What is fair with regard to paying back enhanced maternity pay?

I have returned from maternity leave and I have found the person who was covering my role (who was working for another part of the company) is now staying within the team. This person has also been offered a high profile project and this was something prior to leave which I raised with the company i.e. opportunities for advancement. I have been offered a more lucrative role and closer to home and have decided this is the right move for me. I have, however, been asked to refund the enhanced pay, within approximately six payments. What should I do? I feel bullied into making payments in amounts which will only see our credit card debt increase. Is there any specific legislation which may assist with this issue? i.e. what is reasonable? I have offered as a starting point to forgo my final month’s salary but also, as I am the first person to ever get pregnant in the company, the payments made by the company are unclear on my payslip and I wondered if there are any specific rules pertaining to what is reasonable here as to not repay the full amount I would have to stay for two years. This would seriously affect my ability to advance in my career and subsequently what I would be paid. Any help would be much appreciated. Are there any services I could engage with to help me potentially negotiate this?

Hand holding sign which says Maternity Leave


I understand that you returned to work after a period of maternity leave, during which you received enhanced pay.  Upon your return you were informed that your replacement was staying on and that person had also been offered a higher profile project.  You have now decided to leave your employment as you have been offered a more lucrative role which involved less travel time.  Your issue is that you have been asked to repay the enhanced maternity pay that you received during your maternity leave and you have asked whether there is any help you can get with negotiating this.

The first thing to point out is that when you return to work after a period of Maternity Leave which is 26 weeks or less, you are entitled to return to the job in which you were employed before your absence with your seniority, pension rights and similar rights as they would have been had you not gone on ML and on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which would have been applied had you not been absent; i.e. you have the right to return to exactly the same job you left and to be treated as if you had never been absent.  You should be paid the same rate of pay that would have been payable had you not been on ML and this includes any pay increases that would have been awarded during ML.

When you return to work after a period of ML which is longer than 26 weeks then you have the same rights, except that if reinstatement in your old job is not reasonably practicable then your employer can offer you another job which is both suitable for you and appropriate for you to do in the circumstances.  It seems that although your maternity cover may have been offered high profile projects, you did get your old job back.

It appears from your email that it is the better opportunity and higher pay and lower travel costs that has prompted you to leave your role rather than because of your employer’s treatment of you.  Unless your view is that you are being denied opportunities because of your sex or due to you having taken maternity leave, it seems that your decision to leave is to improve your career rather than in response to your employer’s actions.

Dealing with your issue regarding repayment of enhanced maternity pay, it is difficult to advise you fully without sight of the contract.  However, in general, if your contract specifies the enhancement and sets out the repayment provisions in writing and this was provided before you received the enhanced payment and you agreed it, then it will be difficult for you to challenge this if you have decided to leave your employment for better prospects.  Also, if you have already agreed to repay this to your employer then it may be difficult to challenge now.

However, I would suggest that you should discuss this with your employer as soon as possible and ideally before you make any repayment; confirm that you have decided to leave due to lack of opportunity within the business following your return from maternity leave and ask whether the repayment could be reduced or delayed or spread out further.  Citizens’ Advice Bureau can assist in giving advice on civil disputes if you end up being unable to reach an agreement in this regard.

*Lucy Flynn has assisted with this answer.

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