Your employees' rights
As an employer, it's important to understand the rights an employee has when they're pregnant or on maternity leave.
Employees are entitled to 52 weeks' maternity leave.
They have this right from the day they start the job.
Changing the maternity leave start date
Your employee must give you 28 days' notice if they want to change their maternity leave start date. If it's shorter notice, the new date must be agreed by both of you.
If they do not want to take all their leave
Employees do not have to take their full maternity leave. But they must take at least the first 2 weeks following the birth. This period is known as compulsory maternity leave.
If they work in a factory, they must take at least the first 4 weeks following the birth.
You must not discourage the employee from taking all their maternity leave.
4 weeks before the baby is due
If the employee is off work because of a pregnancy-related illness within 4 weeks of the date the baby is due, maternity leave begins automatically. This is unless you and the employee agree together to delay it, for example because of health and safety reasons.
Once maternity leave starts, you must pay them maternity pay instead of sick pay.
If the baby arrives early or unexpectedly
If the baby arrives early, maternity leave and pay starts on the day after the birth.
Your workplace might have a policy about who must inform you of the birth and how quickly.
If the baby's arrival is unexpected or traumatic, you might be told about it from someone other than the employee, for example a member of their family. Even if your workplace has a policy about who should contact you, it's a good idea to be flexible and understanding in these circumstances.
If the baby is late and your employee planned to take leave from a specific date
If the baby is late and your employee gave you a specific date they wanted maternity leave to start, they can still start the leave from that date.
They need to tell you the date they give birth, so that they start their compulsory maternity leave from then.
If the baby is late and your employee planned to start leave the day after the birth
If your employee told you they wanted to start maternity leave the day after the birth, you do not need to change anything.
If they want to start their maternity leave early, they must give you 28 days' notice of the new start date. If they have a good reason not to give this notice, for example it's late in the pregnancy, you would both need to agree this date.
If there's a stillbirth or the baby dies soon after birth
The employee still has their maternity leave and pay rights if the baby:
- is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy
- dies soon after birth
If the employee is eligible for parental bereavement leave and pay, they have the right to take this after they finish their maternity leave.
You should be as understanding and supportive as possible in these circumstances.
While the legal name for the time off is 'statutory maternity leave', some employees might not want to call the time off 'maternity leave' if their baby has died. You should be sensitive to the employee's preference and be led by them when having conversations about leave.
If you need to discuss work-related matters with the employee, you could arrange with someone else (for example, a friend or family member):
- when this communication happens
- how it happens – for example, whether any urgent communication can be emailed to a friend or family member for a limited time
You could also offer more time off or a phased return to work.
If there's a miscarriage
If the employee has a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, there's no entitlement to maternity leave.
However, many people would still consider miscarriage a bereavement. You should still consider offering time off at what can be an extremely difficult time, both physically and emotionally.
The law on discrimination
It's against the law to treat an employee unfairly because of maternity leave they take, or plan to take.
Employees are entitled to maternity pay.
Shared parental leave
The pregnant employee and their partner might be able to use shared parental leave. Shared parental leave allows leave to be used more flexibly between the pregnant employee and their partner.
This means the pregnant employee could end maternity leave early.
The pregnant employee must still take at least 2 weeks' maternity leave after the baby is born.
Employees 'accrue' (build up) their holiday entitlement as usual during maternity leave. This includes bank holidays.
They cannot take holiday or get holiday pay at the same time as maternity leave.
You could agree to them adding holiday to the start or end of their maternity leave if they want more paid time off.
By law, you must allow your employee to take their statutory holiday entitlement during the holiday year. But if they're not able to use it because they're on maternity leave for all or most of the year, you must allow them to carry it over to the next holiday year.
If you do not allow someone to take their holiday because of their sex, pregnancy or maternity, it could be discrimination.
- talk and agree with them as early as possible about when they'll take their holiday
- put in writing what's agreed
If you need to make the employee redundant when they're pregnant or on maternity leave, you must:
- check the redundancy is genuine and necessary
- ensure you consult and keep in touch
- use redundancy selection criteria that do not discriminate
- consider alternative work
The pregnancy or maternity must not be part of the reason to make them redundant – you might be breaking discrimination law if it is.
Find out more about:
If you dismiss your employee while they're pregnant (for example, as a result of disciplinary action), you must give them the reasons in writing.
Pregnancy or maternity is never a valid reason to dismiss someone. You could be breaking discrimination law if you do this.
If they're legally classed as an employee, surrogates have the same rights to maternity leave and pay as other pregnant employees.
Find out more about: