How to manage maternity leave

As an employer, it’s important you follow the correct procedures when an employee announces a pregnancy. Not only does this protect your business, but supports your employee throughout the pregnancy and when returning to work. What are do you need to know as an employer?

Maternity leave

All pregnant women are entitled to 52 weeks (1 year) of maternity leave, no matter how long they have worked for the employer. This consists of:

  • 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave – this starts when the employee goes on leave before they give birth. Any circumstances where the employee leaves work related to the pregnancy early (for example premature birth or illness) would class as OML.
  • 26 weeks of additional maternity leave – this is where an employee extends the initial OML.

In addition, pregnant employees are entitled to:

  • Time off for ante-natal appointments.
  • Commence maternity leave up to 11 weeks before their due date.
  • The same benefits of normal terms of employment, as per other staff including annual leave.
  • Two weeks compulsory leave after the birth.
  • Up to 10 keeping in touch / KIT days.
  • The legal right to return to work (with limited exceptions).

Pay & benefits

Statutory maternity pay covers 39 weeks providing the employee:

  • Earns above the lower earnings limit.
  • Has given 15 weeks notice of the pregnancy
  • Provided confirmation in the form of a MATB1 form or other medical document.
  • Has worked for the business continuously for 26 weeks (up to the 15 week notice).

Enhanced maternity pay is offered by employers in addition to the SMP and is often a benefit when attracting staff. Our HR Consultants can offer advice and support in creating an enhanced maternity package that reflects best practice within your industry.

What happens if the employee isn’t eligible for SMP?

In this instance they would be placed on unpaid leave, but could be entitled to claim maternity allowance (see government website).

What is shared parental leave?

Both parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up for 37 weeks of pay between them. This must be taken within the first day (and also applies to those adopting a child). SLP can be taken in blocks separated by periods of work, or can be taken in one go.

To qualify parents need to meet eligibility criteria (which is different for birth parents and adoptive parents – see government guidance).

How to manage pregnant employees and maternity leave

Its important to have a clear and consistent process in place to ensure good communication throughout the pregnancy and also that pregnant employees feel safe and supported. It also helps you to be able to plan coverage whilst they are away.

  • Arrange a meeting with with the employee when the pregnancy is confirmed. You can use this meeting to clarify the pay and entitlements they will receive and also get an initial understanding of how much leave they may wish to take (with an appreciation that those date may change when the baby comes!)
  • Capture the discussion in writing to ensure both you and the employee are clear on the details. Our HR Consultants have letters available to ensure you capture all the relevant details.
  • Conduct regular risk assessments of their working area to check that they are not exposed to any potential hazards.
  • Keep in contact – agree before they leave the best way to contact them during their leave and how frequently to keep in touch.
  • Employees on maternity leave have the right to accrue annual leave, employees might want to use any accrued annual leave to extend their maternity leave or stagger their leave to help them gradually return to work.
  • KIT days – although not compulsory, it is good practice to encourage these to keep them connected to the company and help prepare them for a return to work.
  • Return to work – use the KIT days to discuss the plans for return to work and whether they require any flexible working arrangements.
  • You may have agreed a return date in advance however this may change but employees should give at least 8 weeks notice if they wish to change the date to help you make preparations for their return. .

Timeline

  • Notification of pregnancy: the law states that employees must notify employers of pregnancy at least 15 weeks before their due date with a MATB1 form or medical document. Employers must acknowledge this within 28 days of receipt with details of their entitlements (including leave and pay).
  • Maternity leave start date: this can be up to 11 weeks prior to the due date, however if the employee has a pregnancy related illness maternity leave can automatically start 4 weeks prior to the due date
  • Post birth: the compulsory two weeks maternity leave kicks in as soon as the baby is born. As an employer, the employee is not allowed to work for you during this time.

Employee rights

Whilst on maternity leave and on return to work, an employee has the right to return to their existing terms and conditions of employment. For any changes are made to the role whilst the employee is on maternity leave, the employer will need to communicate these fully so that they are involved in any consultation process.

If your employee doesn’t return to work

In a case where the employee doesn’t return for any reason (ie through choice or dismissal) they will still be entitled to SMP for that period.

Flexible working requests

Currently employees are entitled to make a flexible working request. Or HR Consultants can help manage this process to ensure it complies with flexible working regulations.

Get in touch with our team if you need help or advice with managing maternity leave.