Your rights at work start well before your baby is born, so it's helpful to know exactly what you’re entitled to.
Telling your employer
You might not choose to tell your employer about your pregnancy straightaway, but you'll need to do so at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. Make sure to put it in writing – there are some good online templates you can use to help you – and indicate when you'll be planning to begin your statutory maternity leave. (You can change the date later if you need to.)
Working in a safe environment during pregnancy
Once you've notified your employer that you're pregnant, they have a legal obligation to carry out a risk assessment on your job to make sure it's safe for you. This might involve obvious risks like working with hazardous chemicals, lifting heavy loads, working in extreme temperatures, or standing for long periods of time, but it will also take into account things like long working hours and shift work.
Your employer must take steps to remove the risks or offer you suitable alternative work (with no less favourable terms and conditions). If the risk can't be avoided and no suitable alternative work is available, your employer must give you time off on full pay.
What about antenatal appointments?
You’re entitled to paid time off for any antenatal appointments during working hours, including antenatal classes and relaxation sessions if that's what your doctor or midwife has advised. You may need to show your employer evidence of your appointment time and what it's for.
Currently, all pregnant employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave of up to 52 weeks. This is made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave.
Once you've notified your employer of your pregnancy, they must then write to you within 28 days to set your return date. You'll need to give your employer eight weeks' notice if you wish to change your return date.
You can start your maternity leave up to 11 weeks before your baby is due. Or if you would rather have more time with your baby when they’re born, you could work right up until your due date, and take the full amount afterwards.
Of course, you don’t have to take your full maternity leave entitlement if you don’t want to. But legally, you have to take at least 2 weeks compulsory leave following the birth as a recovery period, or a minimum of 4 weeks if you work in a factory. You and your partner might also be eligible for Shared Parental Leave, so it's worth checking.
If you've been working for your employer for 26 continuous weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due, and you earn enough to pay National Insurance contributions, you'll qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). SMP is payable for 39 weeks; you’ll receive 90% of your salary for the first six weeks and then SMP rate, or 90% of your average earnings (whichever is lower), for the next 33 weeks. The SMP rate as of July 2015 is £139.58 per week.
If you don’t qualify for SMP because you’re self employed or have worked for your employer for less than 26 continuous weeks by your 15th week of pregnancy, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance (MA) instead. You can claim this for a maximum of 39 weeks. To qualify you must have been employed or self-employed for 26 of the 66 weeks before your baby is due.
Does maternity leave affect other employment benefits?
When you are on maternity leave, you're still eligible for any benefits you'd usually get if you were working. That includes things like payments into a pension and private healthcare. Even your annual holiday should mount up as usual.
Keeping in touch days
During maternity leave you can agree with your employer to have up to 10 "keeping in touch" days. These days can be used for training, team events, or any form of work. They may make it easier to return to work after your maternity leave. You can do up to 10 days' work during maternity leave without losing any Statutory Maternity Pay.
What are my rights once my additional maternity leave is over?
At the end of additional maternity leave, you're entitled to return to your original job or to a suitable alternative job if one is available. If your employer can't offer suitable alternative work, you may be entitled to redundancy pay.