Maternity Leave Rights in the UK

Maternity Leave Rights

For working women who are expecting their first child, the idea of maternity leave is something they will often know little about. We hope our guide 'Maternity Leave Rights for New Mums' will help inform mums of what maternity leave they are entitled to, for now long and for how much.

When does your maternity leave start?

You can choose when your maternity leave starts, from anywhere between the 11th week before delivery to the day of the delivery itself. That said, maternity leave will automatically start if you're off work due to the pregnancy in the final 4 weeks before the birth.

Informing your employer that wish to take maternity leave

You must tell your employer when you wish to have your maternity leave by the end of the 15th week of your pregnancy. This must be done in writing. In the letter you should:

  • State that you are pregnant
  • The due date of your baby
  • The date which you want your maternity leave to start

You must also produce a medical certificate (MATB1), if your employer asks for one, showing when your baby is due. You can get your MATB1 from your midwife or GP.

What your employer should do next

Your employer will then write to you within 28 days informing you of your maternity start and end dates.

How much maternity leave are you entitled to?

As a working mum you are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave, regardless of the length of your current employment. There are 4 groups of women this doesn't apply to. They are:

  • women who are normally employed abroad (unless they have a work connection with the UK)
  • self-employed women
  • share fisherwomen
  • policewomen and women serving in the armed forces.

As a new mum you can decide when you go back to work as long as it is within your 52 weeks maternity leave. However, the law states that you should have at least 2 weeks off immediately after the birth of your child. If you work in a factory, you must take at least 4 weeks maternity leave immediately after the birth of your child.

What are your employment rights whilst on maternity leave?

The first 26 weeks of maternity leave are called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML). During OML, you will get all the same rights under your contract of employment as if you are still at work. The only exception is that you will not get your normal pay unless your contract allows for it.

However, for example, on maternity leave you are still be entitled to build up holiday and to get any pay increase.

Extra rights given by employers to new mums regarding maternity leave

Some employers have additional rights for new mums. You should consult your employment contract for more information regarding your own maternity leave rights.

Returning to work after Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML)

Under the law new mums have a right to return to work after their 26 weeks of their Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML). A refusal by the employer will be seen as a dismissal and discrimination.

If you are dismissed or treated unfairly because of pregnancy or maternity leave, you can make a claim for discrimination and unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal (Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland). This applies to any new mum, regardless of the length of time they have worked for the employer or whether they work full or part-time.

If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal you should consult your union representative or, if you are not a union member, an experienced adviser.

Returning to work after Additional Maternity Leave (AML)

New mums wishing to return to work after Additional Maternity Leave (AML), should be offered their old job back, unless this is not reasonably practical.

If it is not reasonably practical to offer new mums returning from Additional Maternity Leave (AML) their old job back, they must be offered a job that is suitable for them and appropriate in the circumstances, on the same terms and conditions as their old job.

For example, mums returning to work after their maternity leave must be paid at least the same as their old job.

Pay whilst on maternity leave

On maternity leave you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if:

  • you have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks up to and included the 15th week of the pregnancy - see below
  • you are pregnant, or have had the baby, by the 11th week before the due date of the birth
  • you have an average weekly wage of at least the National Insurance lower earnings limit - see the National Lower Earnings limit earnings here

Have you worked for your currently employer for 26 weeks?

When counting the number of weeks you’ve worked somewhere, it doesn’t matter how many hours a week you work.

The weeks run Sunday to Saturday, and your first week counts as a full week no matter what day you start working.

For example, if your baby is due in the week starting on Sunday 7 May 2017, 15 weeks before that is the week starting on Sunday 22 January 2017. Going back 26 weeks gets to the week starting on 24 July 2016.

This means you have been working for your employer long enough if you start work on any day that week. That means any day up to Saturday 30 July 2016.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks.

For the first 6 weeks of maternity leave, you get Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) at 90% of your average gross weekly earnings (the amount you're paid before tax and National Insurance contributions are deducted). For the weeks after your maternity leave you are paid whichever is lower out of:

  • 90% of your normal weekly earnings
  • £139.58 a week

How to Claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

To claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), you must tell your employer that they are pregnant and will be off work because of the birth. You need to do this 28 days before you decide to start maternity leave. Your employer will want to see a medical certificate (a MATB1) and you must get one and show it to them.

How is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) paid?

Statutory Maternity Leave (SMP) is paid by your employer in exactly the same way and at the same time as your wages are normally paid, for example, weekly or monthly. Your employer then claims the money back from the government.

What if an employer refuses to pay SMP?

If your employer refuses to pay Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you can complain to HM Revenue and Customs, which will decide whether or not it should be paid.

This is complicated situation, and if you are in this position will need the help of an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

More information about Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

You can find a useful factsheet about maternity pay on the Maternity Action website.

Paternity Leave Rights in the UK

To read about the paternity leave rights a father has in the UK when their baby is born please visit Paternity Leave Rights in the UK on