Under current UK law, every pregnant woman is entitled to take up to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave no matter how long she has been working at that job.
You must tell your employer at least 15 weeks before your due date in order to claim Statutory Maternity Leave (and pay). You will need to provide them with your MATB1 certificate (your midwife will give you this) as proof of your pregnancy.
You don’t have to take the full 52 weeks, but you must take at least 2 weeks after the baby is born (this figure rises to 4 weeks if you work in a factory). You need to give your employer 8 weeks’ notice of when you plan to come back to work.
Statutory Maternity Leave is split into two 26-week blocks:
- Ordinary Maternity Leave comes first and automatically starts on the day your child is born, or if you are required to be off work due to a pregnancy-related illness up to 4 weeks before your baby is due. You can start it as early as 11 weeks before your due date. Many women choose to start it early, especially as the final weeks of the last trimester are often exhausting.
- Additional Maternity Leave refers to the second 26 week block.
To make it more confusing, Statutory Maternity Pay is split differently.
In 2016, the UK government introduced the concept of Shared Parental Leave – this allows you to sacrifice a portion of your Maternity Leave (and pay) to your partner. You can give your partner up to 50 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave and up to 37 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Pay.
So long as sufficient notice is given, your partner can then use Shared Parental Leave at any time during your maternity leave. Some couples decide to be off at the same time; others decide to take the blocks of time one after the other.
If you and your partner do chose to take Shared Parental Leave, your partner will be paid the lower of £145.18 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings.
Depending on your employer, you may be eligible for additional benefits whilst on maternity leave so it’s worth finding out what, if anything, they offer. For example, some employers pay employees on maternity leave their full salary for a period of time irrespective of the government minimum.
Even if your employer doesn’t offer additional benefits, it’s worth remembering that every woman in the UK is entitled to receive pay rises, amass holiday days and ultimately return to work.
It’s also worth noting that time off for antenatal care (e.g. midwife appointments or antenatal classes) and maternity leave are two separate things. You should not need to start maternity leave early to cover antenatal care. More information about your rights can be found on gov.uk.
Written by Nadia Thompson