Returning to work after maternity leave can be both challenging and exciting. If you’re worried about any aspect of the process, then read on to brush up on your rights and legislation surrounding maternity leave. There’s also little-known legislation around miscarriage and stillbirths that’s crucial to know should the worst occur.
Your rights to maternity leave kick in if you have been with your employer for over 26 weeks (that’s just over 6 months), entitling you to 52 weeks off with 39 of those being paid. The earliest you can start maternity leave is 11 weeks prior to your due date or it will automatically begin day after the birth. You don’t have to take the full 52 maternity leave weeks, but you must take at 2 weeks off following birth, or 4 if you’re employed in a factory.
Maternity leave is made up of two parts: ordinary and additional. Ordinary maternity leave, lasting 6 months, protects your rights to return to exactly the same job you had before. Additional leave (another 6 months) still offers protections, as you’re eligible to return to the same position unless it no longer exists, in which case you must be offered a similar role with the same pay and conditions. Remember that whilst on maternity leave you’re still entitled to all the same employee rights that you’d normally get from work: paid holiday, protection from unfair dismissal, pension payments, and any other employee benefits offered by your employer.
To be eligible for maternity pay you should tell your employer about your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the baby’s due date. Do this in writing, stating a date you’d like to begin your leave and an intended return to work date, together with a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your pregnancy. A lot can change during your maternity leave and you may want or need to adjust your return date, as is your right, just remember that you need to give 8 weeks’ notice informing of the change.
With adoption, you’re entitled to the same leave allowance and you should tell your employer about it within 7 days of being notified of a match with a child by the adoption agency or 28 days before you want your maternity to begin.
If your pregnancy unfortunately ends in miscarriage (classified as such if it occurs before the 24th week of pregnancy) then you won’t be eligible for maternity leave. However, you can take sick leave with a sign off from your GP. Post miscarriage sick leave is likely to be protected as part of pregnancy related illness and shouldn’t count towards your overall sickness record.
Should you, sadly, experience a stillbirth (after 24 weeks of pregnancy) or if the baby is born alive but dies soon after (even if this takes prior to 24 weeks) you are eligible to all your maternity rights.
Remember, pregnancy and maternity based discrimination is illegal and you are protected by the Equality Act - you should refer to it if you feel that your employer is treating you unfairly.