What You Need to Know About Maternity Leave and Pay

Baby and parent holding hands

There is much to consider when an employee tells you that they are pregnant. Firstly, they may not want everyone in the organisation to know, so ensure that they have told their colleagues before it is broadcast. Both maternity leave and pay are governed by statutory regulations, so it is important to know how to manage time off due to pregnancy and how to calculate pay.

Taking maternity leave

Where a worker has at least 26 weeks’ continuous service, they are entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. The first 26 weeks’ leave is referred to as ordinary maternity leave (OML), followed immediately, if they choose, by 26 weeks of additional maternity leave (AML).

If they are entitled to maternity leave and pay, they can choose to start it from either:

  • up to 11 weeks before the baby is due, or
  • the day of the birth

The worker must tell the employer the date they plan to start maternity leave no later than 15 weeks before the baby is due.

After the baby is born, they must (by law):

  • start maternity leave (if they have not already)
  • take off from work at least 2 weeks (4 weeks if they work in a factory) – this is known as ‘compulsory maternity leave’
  • take their maternity leave in one go.

Maternity leave ends when the worker returns to work.

Click here for the Government website, where you will find more details about maternity pay and leave.

Follow the link for more information from ACAS.


The rules are different for Shared Parental Leave (SPL)

Click here for the Government website, where you will find more details about SPL.

Changing the start date of maternity leave

The worker must give the employer 28 days’ notice (or agree a new date together) if they wish to make a change to the agreed date.

Maternity leave can start early if:

  • the worker is absent from work because of pregnancy-related sickness in the 4 weeks before the baby is due, or
  • the baby is born earlier than expected or is premature


Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

The worker will qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if all the following apply:

  • they have been working continuously for 26 weeks for the same employer before the ‘qualifying week’
  • they earn at least £123 a week on average for 8 weeks before the qualifying week.

If they have more than one employer, they might be able to claim SMP from each one, if eligible.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for 39 weeks:

  • for the first 6 weeks, pay is 90% of average weekly earnings
  • for the following 33 weeks, pay is 90% of average weekly earnings or £156.66* a week, whichever is lower
  • the remaining 13 weeks are unpaid

*Maternity Pay is reviewed, usually on an annual basis around April of each year. The figures quoted in this article are relevant at the time of writing, in August 2022.

Enhanced maternity pay

An employer may choose to enhance Statutory Maternity Pay by providing more pay over a period of time. For instance, some employers provide 90% of pay over 12 weeks or more. Each organisation will set out their policy in their contract of employment or policies.

Maternity Allowance

Where the worker is eligible for SMP, they may still qualify for Maternity Allowance.

Click here for more information about maternity allowance, which can be found on the Government website.


Holiday and maternity leave

Holiday entitlement will continue to accrue during maternity leave. Embrace HR encourages employers to discuss and agree, as early as possible, when accrued leave should be taken. This conversation will help to manage the worker’s return to work with the intention of minimising disruption. An example is to arrange for holiday that is accrued up to the time of intended maternity leave to be taken before that date if it is convenient to the worker and the organisation.

Many workers take their accrued leave at the end of maternity leave, before returning to work, or may use leave to ease themselves back into work on a part-time basis. There are many options to be discussed.


During maternity leave

Keeping in touch during maternity leave

The employer has the right to a reasonable amount of contact with the worker during maternity leave, especially to keep them informed of any changes to their job role or to the organisation.

Discuss and agree on the best method of communication prior to the start of maternity leave.

Keeping in touch days

The worker may work for up to 10 days during maternity leave to help stay in touch with the employer. These are called keeping in touch (KIT) days.

It’s up to the worker to agree with the employer:

  • if they want to work KIT days
  • how many KIT days they will use
  • what type of work will be carried out on the KIT days
  • how much they will be paid for the work (this cannot be below the National Minimum Wage)


It’s against discrimination law for an employer to make a worker redundant just because they are pregnant or on maternity leave.


Returning to work after having a baby

The right to return to work

If the worker has taken 26 weeks or less

The worker has the right to return to the same job after ordinary maternity leave.

If the worker has taken more than 26 weeks

The worker still has the right to return to the same job on the same terms as before they left. But if it’s not possible because there have been significant changes to the organisation, they could be offered a similar job.

In this case, the job cannot be on worse terms than before. For example, the following must be the same:

  • pay
  • benefits
  • holiday entitlement
  • seniority
  • where the job is located

Changing the date of return

The worker must tell the employer at least 8 weeks before they are due to return to work if they want to:

  • stay on maternity leave longer than planned
  • return to work sooner than planned

Taking holiday

Holiday entitlement continues to accrue holiday during maternity leave.

Discuss before return to work to agree when accrued holiday will be taken.


If the worker decides they wish to leave their job either during or after maternity leave, they should follow the usual process for resigning, giving the employer the notice period as set out in their contract of employment.

More information is available from ACAS.

This article published by People Management also provides useful information.


If you would like to discuss this subject further, please contact us.

T: 01296 761288 or contact us here.

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Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited provide a specialised HR service to the care sector and small businesses, from recruitment through to exit