How much maternity leave are new mothers entitled to?

In a small business, managing maternity leave can be a challenge.

You may feel at a loss on how you are going cope with the employee’s absence, but how long can employees be off work on maternity leave?

Eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. To be eligible, they must be an employee and have given you the correct amount of notice.  The employee must inform you of their pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the baby is due. Essentially, they need to tell you the expected week that the baby is due and the date that they wish to begin maternity leave.

Perhaps it will come as a surprise to some employers, but maternity leave is a day one right. This means that an employee has the right to maternity leave irrespective of how long they have worked for you.

 Understanding maternity leave

There are three forms of maternity leave: Compulsory Maternity Leave, Ordinary Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave.

  • Compulsory Maternity Leave

By law, a birth mother must take a minimum of two weeks’ after having a baby. This is extended to four weeks for factory employees.

  • Ordinary Maternity Leave

Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) lasts up to 26 weeks. It can begin at any time from 11 weeks before the baby is due.

  • Additional Maternity Leave

Additional Maternity Leave (AML) lasts up to 26 weeks, which commences after OML has ended.

It is important to note that after Compulsory Maternity Leave, the parents can decide to opt in for Shared Parental Leave at any time. Provided that certain eligibility and notification criteria are complied with, the mother can end her maternity leave early and share up to 50 weeks of leave with the father of the baby or mother’s spouse or civil partner or partner at the time of the child’s birth. Find out more about Shared Parental Leave here.
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Changing return date

If the employee wishes to change the date that they return to work, they must provide you with at least eight weeks’ notice.

Extending time off

If an employee wishes to extend her maternity leave, she has some options.

She may take unpaid parental leave. To be eligible, they must be an employee, have formal responsibility of the child and have one year’s continuous service. An employee needs to provide 21 days of notice of the start date of parental leave and they can only take four weeks per child in each year, unless you decide to be more generous.

Employers should always try to accommodate requests for parental leave. An employer can postpone any leave for up to six months in order to fulfil business needs. However, you must consult with the employee over suitable alternative dates and explain in writing within seven days of the employee giving you notice of the reason for postponing leave.

She may also take annual leave. Statutory holiday entitlement continues to accrue while an employee is on maternity leave, therefore they may wish to take their untaken holiday once their maternity leave has concluded.  If an employee has been unable to take annual leave because they are on maternity leave, they can carry over their unused leave to the next year. You can ask employees to use their annual leave before going on maternity leave, allow them to carry some over or ask them to take this annual leave before they return to work.

And of course, you may decide to be more generous and agree to them taking some more time off when their maternity leave comes to a close. Any agreement should be in writing so that both parties have clarity as to what has been agreed.

Want to know more?

To find out more about employee rights, read our article on statutory maternity leave rights, which provides an overview of the right to time off for ante natal appointments, flexible working, health and safety and much more.

For further questions, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can give you tailored advice for all your workplace challenges.

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