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Maternity leave: What happens to holiday leave and sick pay?

Some employers aren't clear how maternity leave may affect sickness absence or holidays, Acas research has revealed. For example, what happens to paid holiday during maternity leave and what should you do if an employee is off sick when maternity leave starts? What follows is the current thinking on some of the most common questions, but as it's a complex area it always worth taking legal advice.

While on maternity leave, employees continue to build up their holiday entitlements just as they would if they were absent due to illness. If they can't take all the leave they're entitled to during a particular year, they can carry it over to the following year. Many employers allow employees to add all of their annual leave on to the beginning or end of the maternity period.

If an employee is off-sick because of her pregnancy, then she is entitled to sick pay in the normal way. (Antenatal care does not count as pregnancy-related illness in this respect.) Her pregnancy sickness should be recorded separately from other illness and should not be counted towards a total sickness record. Neither can pregnancy-related sickness absence be used as a reason for disciplinary action or redundancy selection.

With one notable exception mentioned below, maternity leave and pay generally start on the date the employee chooses it to start, regardless of sickness absence or the reason for it. Sick pay stops as soon as maternity leave starts.

It's slightly different if the employee is away from work because of a pregnancy-related sickness in the four weeks before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). In that case, her maternity leave starts on the day after the first day of her absence (unless otherwise agreed between employer and employee); that's true even if she falls ill before the agreed maternity notification date. Employees aren't entitled to statutory sick pay during the maternity pay period. The employee should notify the employer of her absence if it's because of her pregnancy and when the absence began as soon as reasonably practicable.

Acas has comprehensive information on leave and holidays in the pdf  Advice leaflet - Holidays and holiday pay [164kb], and offers training courses named Human resources management for beginners, covering the fundamentals of employment, including contracts, pay and holidays. Acas also provides training on issues surrounding Maternity, paternity and adoption.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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