Maternity leave and pay: essential information

All pregnant employees are entitled to take up to 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and up to 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave, totalling 52 weeks’ maternity leave entitlement. This applies regardless of the number of hours worked or length of service. It is not mandatory to take the 52 weeks’ maternity leave, but employees must take two weeks leave after childbirth (four weeks for factory workers).

Ordinary Maternity Leave

Ordinary Maternity Leave can start at any time after the 11th week before the estimated week of childbirth. The pregnancy leave will start either on the employee’s chosen start date, on the day after giving birth or the day after a day for which the employee is absent for pregnancy-related reasons (in the four weeks before the estimated week for childbirth).

If giving birth happens before the date planned by doctors or midwives, the employee must notify the company in writing as soon as it is practical.

During the period of ordinary maternity leave, employment contracts are still in force, and all benefits should be maintained, except for salary which is then replaced by a statutory maternity leave, provided the employee is eligible to receive it.

Any outstanding annual leave can be taken before the start of the leave, and if the holiday year ends during the leave, employees are encouraged to take the full entitlement before starting the maternity leave.

Additional Maternity Leave

Employment contracts and benefits should be maintained during additional maternity leave. Salary will be replaced by statutory maternity pay during the first 13 weeks of the additional leave (if the employee is eligible to receive it) but the remaining 13 weeks of leave will be unpaid.

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for up to 39 weeks and usually starts when the employee begins their maternity leave. It is paid as frequently as regular wages and tax and National Insurance are still deducted as normal.

Employees are eligible to receive maternity pay if they have continuously been employed by the company for at least 26 weeks at the end of the qualifying weeks (15 weeks before the estimated week of childbirth) and if earnings for the 8 weeks before this are no lower than the earnings limit for National Insurance contributions. Employees must provide an official certificate (MAT B1 form) stating the estimated date of birth by a doctor or midwife. The company should also be given proper notification of pregnancy as per the rules set out in the company’s Maternity Leave Policy.

For the first 6 weeks, maternity pay is paid at its higher rate, which is 90% of the employee’s weekly earnings. For the next 33 weeks, the rate will be the lowest one between £139.58 and 90% of the weekly earnings. Earnings are calculated over 8 weeks up to and including the qualifying week.

If the employee has been working for the company for less than 26 weeks at the qualifying week, they are not eligible to receive statutory maternity pay. They may however be able to apply to the Department for Work and Pensions for maternity allowance.

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