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Maternity toolkit

Your maternity toolkit

This toolkit covers your rights at work and answers our most frequently asked questions on maternity leave and pay. This can be used with our pregnancy toolkit which covers when to tell your employer, pregnancy related sickness, time off for appointments, changing employer whilst pregnant and much more.


Leave

 

 

Baby picture for journey All pregnant employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks maternity leave. This is broken down into 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), which is inclusive of compulsory leave and 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML). You are entitled to this length of maternity leave regardless of how long you have been employed.

In law, you are required to take a minimum of two weeks off work after the birth of your baby. This is called Compulsory Maternity Leave (CML). This is extended to four weeks for factory workers.

You could have the right to share statutory entitlements to leave and pay with your partner. You can read about Shared Parental Leave (ShPL) 
here or below. 

You may be entitled to ordinary Statutory Paternity Leave and Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) if you satisfy certain conditions. For the purposes of SPP, HM Revenue and Customs treats each NHS trust as a separate employer. If you change NHS employers you may lose your entitlement to SPP.

In addition, you could have the right to share statutory entitlements to leave and pay with your partner. Read more about Shared Parental Leave (SPL) here and on the Acas website.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) gives eligible parents the opportunity to share leave and pay during the child's first year.

SPL and ShPP are only available in England, Scotland and Wales.

To be entitled to SPL and ShPP both the mother/adopter and the father/partner need to meet specific eligibility criteria.

To check if you are eligible, you can use the leave and pay calculator on gov.uk and read more about SPL here.

If you are employed by the NHS, please also see section 15 of the NHS handbook.


Always check your contract/workplace policy to clarify what you are entitled to.

If you are an NHS employee please see the NHS handbook. NHS entitlements and qualifying criteria for adoption are in section 35.

If you work outside of the NHS or do not meet NHS eligibility criteria, see gov.uk for eligibility criteria for statutory adoption leave and pay.

Some employees will not qualify for both leave and pay.

If you are adopting a child from overseas then different rules apply. See gov.uk for further information.

Read more about adoption leave and pay on gov.uk.

 


Parental leave is time off that employees who are parents can take to spend time with their child up until the child's 18th birthday.

Employees are entitled to take up to eighteen weeks of parental leave per child.



England, Wales and Scotland

If you need to leave your course to have a baby or adopt a child, but intend to return to the same course at a later date, you should notify whoever provides your funding (e.g. Student Finance England). If possible you should give them an approximate date for when you intend to return to your course. The provider will suspend your financial support until the time you start to attend the course again.

Read more about students and maternity pay here.

 

If you are classed as an employee, you have the right to take time off to deal with any unexpected or sudden problem involving a dependent.

A dependent may be a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as part of your family. Others who rely solely on you for help in an emergency may also qualify.

Read more about time off work here.


Please see our pregnancy toolkit for information on what to consider, when to notify your employer and your rights.

Maternity pay

 

NHS employed

To get NHS contractual maternity pay you need to satisfy a few conditions.

Do you have?

A) 12 months continuous service with one or more NHS employers at the beginning of the 11th week before your baby is due?  *Please note breaks in NHS service of 3 months can be disregarded but will not count as service.

AND

B) 26 weeks continuous service with the same NHS employer at the beginning of the 15th week before your baby is due?

If YES to A and B:
It is likely you are eligible for NHS contractual maternity pay which is:

•  8 weeks ‘full pay’ including Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
• 18 weeks 'half pay', plus SMP (except if  this will exceed ‘full pay’)
• 13 weeks SMP 
• 13 weeks unpaid.

If YES to A and NO to B: 
It is likely you are eligible for NHS contractual maternity pay from your employer which is:

• 8 weeks on 'full pay' minus Maternity Allowance (MA)
• 18 weeks 'half pay'
• 26 weeks unpaid.

You may also be entitled to claim Maternity Allowance (MA) separately for the first 39 weeks. Do check the calculations with your HR/Payroll.

These are the basic entitlements only. There are rules on informing your employer and there is a requirement to return to NHS employment for three months. Always read your employer's policies, check with your Human Resources (HR) department and see section 15 of the NHS handbook.

If NO to A and YES to B:
You are likely to receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for up to 39 weeks. Please read more about Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

If NO to both A and B:
You might be eligible to receive Maternity Allowance (MA).  Read more here about eligibility rules and use gov.uk's maternity pay calculator to work out how much you could get.

Always check the calculations with your HR department/Payroll.



Maternity entitlements can vary widely in the independent sector.

Do you have 26 weeks continuous service with your employer at the 15th week before your baby is due?

If YES:
Check your contract and maternity policy. If you do not get contractual maternity pay, you should receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) subject to eligibility rules. 

If NO
You may be eligible to receive Maternity Allowance (MA).

Use gov.uk's  maternity pay calculator to work out how much you could get. 

You must check your contract and local maternity policy before working on the NHS bank during paid maternity leave, as most NHS employers do not allow this. Also, working on the NHS bank (whilst receiving Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)) can affect your SMP.



 

If, while studying, you are working on the bank, for an agency, or on a self-employed basis, you may have satisfied the eligibility criteria for either Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA).  

Sadly, the receipt of a bursary is not treated as ‘earnings’ for SMP purposes.  

For advice about possible benefit entitlement:

•  contact your university’s Welfare Adviser
•  read our Student Money guide (especially the section on ‘Benefits for students with children’).

If you then require further assistance, contact our team on 0345 772 6200.

Taking leave from your studies

England, Wales and Scotland
If you need to leave your course to have a baby or adopt a child, but intend to return to the same course at a later date, you should notify whoever provides your funding (e.g. Student Finance England). If possible you should give them an approximate date for when you intend to return to your course. The provider will suspend your financial support until the time you start to attend the course again.

Read more about Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA)

Our Student Money guide has a useful section on Benefits for students with children or dependents.



Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

SMP is paid if: 
• you are an employee (although special rules apply if you’re working on the bank/for an agency)
• you have worked for your employer for a continuous period of at least 26 weeks ending with the qualifying week. This period must include at least one day in the qualifying week. This is known as the continuous employment rule

AND

• your average weekly earnings in the relevant period have been at least equal to the Lower Earnings Limit (LEL) for National Insurance contributions.

Read more about eligibility for SMP here.

SMP is paid up to week 39 of your maternity leave:

• 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks
• followed by either the SMP standard rate or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the remaining 33 weeks.

The earliest your SMP can start is 11 weeks before the date your baby is due. You don’t have to repay SMP if you decide not to return to work. SMP is paid through your employer’s payroll department, so you should speak to them if you believe there has been a mistake in the calculation of your entitlements.

You can check your entitlement to SMP by using the government's calculator.

Maternity Allowance (MA)

If you don’t qualify for SMP you may be eligible for Maternity Allowance (MA).

Based on your recent employment and earnings you may be eligible to claim up to 39 weeks’ MA through your local Jobcentre Plus. 

To qualify for MA you must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks of the 66 week period up to the beginning of the week the baby is due. You must also have been earning £30 per week or more over a 13 week period.

The earliest your MA can start is 11 weeks before the date your baby is due and the latest is from the day following the birth. You don’t have to repay MA if you decide not to return to work.

You can use the maternity entitlement calculator to work out how much you could get.

Full pay will be calculated using the Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) rules.

Your employer will average your gross earnings over a period of at least eight weeks up to and including the last payday before the end of your qualifying week. The qualifying week is the 15th week before the week your baby is due.

You might like to consider trying to increase your earnings for this period. Remember it is the amount that you are actually paid in that period that is taken into account. Always check your contract and maternity policy.

You can use the maternity pay calculator to work out how much you could get.

Further information

If you are employed by the NHS, section 15.22/15.23 of  the NHS handbook covers the calculation of maternity pay.



Annual leave

You still accrue annual leave whilst you are on maternity leave. This accrued annual leave must be taken at a time other than during your maternity leave.

You must be allowed to carry over any unused part of your statutory leave entitlement of 28 days (including bank holidays).

Your contract may say that you are entitled to more than the statutory entitlement, so it's important to check your local policy for carry over provisions.

You must come to an arrangement with your employer as to when you take your accrued annual leave. 

If you cannot reach an agreement with your employer, please call us on 0345 772 6100.



More than one job?

Working during maternity leave

It is very important to check your contract and maternity policy before considering working for another employer during your maternity leave.

If you work for another employer whilst receiving Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) but before the baby is born, your employer should continue to pay you SMP.

If you work for another employer whilst receiving SMP but after the baby is born, this can affect your SMP. It is your responsibility to inform your employer that you are also working for another employer.

Your SMP will stop if, after your baby is born, you work for an employer who did not employ you at the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC). The same rules apply to agency work.

If you do any work in a self-employed capacity during your SMP, then such work will not affect your SMP.



You may be allowed to work for another employer during unpaid maternity leave but you must check your contract and local policies before doing so.

Some employers may allow you to work bank shifts when you are on unpaid maternity leave, but there may be a restriction on the number of bank shifts you may work.

You must ensure that working on this basis does not enable your employer to consider that you have ‘returned to work’. This would end your maternity leave.


You must check your contract and local maternity policy before working on the NHS bank during paid maternity leave, as most NHS employers do not allow this. Also, working on the NHS bank (whilst receiving Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)) can affect your SMP.



 

Maternity and discrimination

Discim You are protected against pregnancy and maternity discrimination from day one of your employment (provided you have notified the employer you are pregnant). This lasts from the start of your pregnancy until the end of your maternity leave period.

Bank or agency workers who are not entitled to maternity leave are protected for two weeks after the birth. During and after the protected period you are also protected against automatic unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and detrimental treatment because of pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness because you have given birth. This could include postnatal depression or conditions linked to childbirth. Please check your local policies (recruitment, maternity and sickness etc) and please call us on 0345 772 6100 if you feel that you are being unfairly treated.

Read more about pregnancy, types of discrimination and your rights in our pregnancy toolkit.

Further information

Maternity Action and discrimination
Equality and Human Rights
Acas pregnancy and maternity discrimination
Breastfeeding at work


Sickness during maternity leave

You cannot receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or contractual sick pay whilst receiving Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). If you normally receive contractual sick pay, it is at your employer’s discretion whether they choose to top up your SMP with occupational sick pay.


Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) could be paid during a period of maternity leave without pay. For example, if your SMP has finished and you are not receiving any pay, you should apply for SSP. Read more about here.

You should inform your employer that you are sick and let them have whatever evidence they require from you. If you fall ill whilst on unpaid additional maternity leave, you will not generally be eligible to receive any contractual sick pay. However, if you have given the required notice that you will be returning to work before the expiry of your additional maternity leave period then you may be eligible for sick pay if you are unable to return on the due date owing to sickness. Check your local maternity policy and sickness policy.

If you are sick whilst pregnant, please see our pregnancy toolkit.

Keeping In Touch (KIT) days

With the agreement of your employer, you may work up to 10 days during your maternity leave period. These are known as Keeping In Touch days (KIT).

Pay and KIT days

Always check your contract and maternity policy to see what is stated about pay for KIT days prior to agreeing to work them.

Often new mothers opt to take their KIT days during the unpaid period as then there are no implications on their Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).

You may decline an opportunity to work a KIT day without suffering any consequences as a result. It is unlawful for you to suffer detriment for not agreeing to work KIT days or for working or considering working these days.

If you work in the NHS, read more about KIT days in the NHS handbook section 15.

If you work outside of the NHS, read more on Maternity Action.

Miscarriage, early and still birth

Miscarriage or stillbirth 

Miscarriage or stillbirth can be life-changing events. As an RCN member you can use our Counselling service for free, confidential support through challenging times.

There are different outcomes depending on when the miscarriage or still birth occurred. Read more on our pregnancy toolkit.

Premature birth

Premature birth is considered to be a birth before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy.

Sadly if your baby is born prematurely you are not currently entitled to any extra maternity leave or pay. Do check your maternity policy on this and read Premature births – rights to maternity leave and pay on Maternity Action.

Remember, as an RCN member you can use our Counselling service for free, confidential support through challenging times.


Returning to work

Work life 2048 1362 You have the right to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions when returning from Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) (the first 26 weeks of leave).

On returning to work during or at the end of Additional Maternity Leave (AML) (the last 26 weeks), you are also entitled to return to your previous job on the same terms and conditions. If this is not reasonably practicable, you should be permitted to return to an alternative job that is both suitable and appropriate in the circumstances.

If there is no suitable alternative and your job is redundant, read more
here.

Please note: when you resume work after OML and AML you are entitled to benefit from any general improvements to the rate of pay (or other terms and conditions) that you would have received had you been at work.

Question mark Your return date need to be agreed with your employer. Often employers agree to add the accrued annual leave on to the end of the 12 months maternity leave but that is through agreement.

If you want to return to work before the end of your maternity leave, you must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice of the date you will be returning.

You can change your mind about returning to work early provided that you give at least 8 weeks’ notice before the date you now intend to return or the date you had intended to return, whichever is earliest.

If you are thinking of not returning, your might have to repay your contractual maternity pay. It is very important to check your contract and maternity policy and read our section on leaving your job



Don’t wait until you are due to go back to work to think about your return. Flexible working can take three to four months to agree. So if you are off work for the full 12 months, you need to think about your return to work just after the 6 month point.

All employees can ask their employer for flexible working arrangements to help them manage a return to work with young children. You may also have the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern.

To apply for flexible working under the statutory process you must:

• be an employee, but not in the armed forces
• have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks before applying
• not have made another application to work flexibly for that employer in the last 12 months.

If you do not meet the eligibility criteria for the statutory right to request a flexible working, you still have options. All employees can ask their employer for flexible working arrangements to help them manage a return to work with young children. You must always check your contract of employment for information on notice periods for your return to work after maternity, paternity or adoption leave.

Further information can be found in our flexible working guide. 

 


As a new mother, you must not be required to work at night if night work could damage your health and safety, or that of your child.

If you have concerns, speak to your GP and request a medical certificate stating that you cannot work at night for health and safety reasons.

Your employer should then offer you suitable alternative work. If there is no suitable alternative day-time work available, you should be suspended on full pay.

Please call us on 0345 772 6100 for further advice if the matter is not resolved.

Leaving your job

Changing direction If you do not want to go back to work after the birth of your baby, this will not affect your right to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA) but it is important to check your contract for any clause which requires you to pay back any contractual maternity pay if you decide not to return.

NHS staff on NHS terms and conditions

A clause does exist within the NHS contract. Section 15 of the NHS handbook states that to claim NHS contractual maternity pay you must intend to return to work with the same or another NHS employer for a minimum period of three months after your maternity leave has ended.

Please see section 15 of the NHS terms and conditions for more information: 15.99 for England and Wales and section 15.56 for Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you do not return to NHS employment within 15 months of the beginning of your maternity leave, then you will be liable to repay the whole of your maternity pay (minus the Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity allowance (MA) that you have received).

Non NHS employees

If you are employed outside the NHS, read your contract of employment or local policy to determine when you need to return and the notice period you need to give.

If you are undecided whether to leave your employer, keep your options open and when you have made a decision, ensure you stick to the notice requirements.

Redundancy

If a redundancy situation occurs whilst you are on maternity leave, you are entitled to priority treatment.

For example, if your employer has a suitable vacancy, they must offer it to you in preference to any other employee who is similarly affected by the redundancy situation but who is not absent on maternity leave. The vacancy must be suitable, appropriate for you to accept and must not be substantially less favourable than your previous job or original contract.

Where no vacancy exists, the employer can dismiss you on the grounds of redundancy. However, care must be taken that you are properly consulted and given correct notice. You are entitled to receive a written statement of the reasons for your dismissal without having to request it, regardless of your length of service. Provided you have the necessary two years’ service, you will also be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment.

Once the dismissal takes effect, the maternity leave period automatically comes to an end. If your employer offers contractual redundancy pay you may also be entitled to this. You should check your employer’s local policy.

You are not entitled to additional protection if a redundancy situation occurs before you start your maternity leave. Nevertheless, protection against discrimination because of pregnancy continues while you are pregnant.

If you have told you are being made redundant, gather your contract and any relevant paperwork and call us on 0345 772 6100 us for advice.


Resigning or being dismissed

If you resign or are dismissed before the date you start your maternity leave, or before you have a notified date to start your maternity leave, you lose the right to maternity leave from that employment along with any contractual maternity allowances. This is because your contract has ended.

However, you are still eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if you meet the eligibility criteria. Read more about resignations and maternity pay on Maternity Action.


Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: Your rights

While you are breastfeeding, you and your baby have special protection under health and safety law. To make use of this protection, you must inform your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding. It is advisable to do this before you return to work, so your employer can make the necessary adjustments.

While you are breastfeeding, your employer must consider whether your working conditions are a risk to your health, or the health of your baby. If your working conditions do not support breastfeeding, this could put your baby at risk.

Where there is a risk to your baby, your employer should take certain reasonable steps such as:
• making a temporary change to your working conditions
• making a temporary change to your working hours (shorter shifts)
• allowing regular breaks for you to express milk.

If your GP or health visitor advises that your job is too stressful, and that even with temporary adjustments your ability to breastfeed could be put at risk, then your employer should consider a temporary transfer to alternative work.

Guidance for employers and breastfeeding mothers is available from the Health and Safety Executive (England, Scotland and Wales) and at nidirect (Northern Ireland).


Your employer is legally obliged to provide suitable facilities for breastfeeding mothers to rest, however there is no clear guidance on what these facilities should be. It is not suitable for you to use toilets for expressing milk.  Your employer is legally required to provide somewhere for breastfeeding mothers to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down.

A warm, clean, lockable room would be helpful for expressing milk, and a clean refrigerator and facilities for washing, sterilising and storing receptacles might assist you. It is not always possible to provide all of this, so be as reasonable as possible and work with your employer.

ACAS has produced guidance for employers looking to accommodate breastfeeding in the workplace; this should help you discuss any concerns you have with your employer.

Consider what adjustments you need before returning to work.

  • Explain the health reasons for breastfeeding, as your manager may not understand. NHS Choices information may help you.
  • If you are concerned about your employer's ability to provide appropriate facilities, a letter from your GP or health visitor may help. This could confirm that your work conditions will stop you breastfeeding and could potentially put your baby’s health at risk.
  • Be flexible with your requests. If additional breaks are not possible, for example, then consider using your tea and lunch breaks and taking them at different times.
  • You should not suffer any detriment because you are breastfeeding. Under equality law this may amount to discrimination

If you are having any difficulties agreeing adjustments with your employer, please call us on 0345 772 6100 for further advice.


Postnatal depression

Head in hands 800 530 Postnatal depression is very common, affecting more than one in ten mothers. Please read more about post-natal depression here. Please see our information on sickness and discrimination if you need to take time off work for postnatal depression.

If you feel that you are being unfairly treated due to postnatal depression, please call us on 0345 772 6100 for advice. Remember, as an RCN member you can use our Counselling service for free, confidential support through challenging times.

Time off work

If you are classed as an employee, you have the right to take time off to deal with any unexpected or sudden problem involving a dependent.

A dependent may be a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as part of your family. Others who rely solely on you for help in an emergency may also qualify.

Read more about time off work here.


Money The right to time off for dependants does not include a statutory right to pay. Whether you will receive pay depends on your local policy or your employment contract.

Your employer may have a ‘carer's leave' policy that entitles you to a limited amount of paid time off a year to deal with emergency situations. If the employer does not have any local policy, discuss options with your manager such as working the time back, taking annual leave, parental leave or going unpaid for a short period. Read more here in our Time Off Work guide.


You are entitled to take as much time as you need, provided it is a real emergency. For example, if your child falls ill you may take off time to deal with their initial needs such as taking them to the doctor and arranging for their care. 

You will need to make other arrangements if you want to stay off work longer to care for them yourself.


You cannot request time off for dependants if you know in advance that a problem may arise.

You may be able to come to an arrangement with your employer by taking another form of leave, such as carer's leave, changing your shifts or going unpaid for a period of time.


Parental leave is time off that employees who are parents can take to spend time with their child up until the child's 18th birthday.

Employees are entitled to take up to eighteen weeks of parental leave per child.



Pregnancy toolkit

Be sure of your rights by reading our pregnancy toolkit which covers risks, sickness, and discrimination.

Search our advice guides

See our A-Z of advice. These guides will help you answer many of your questions about work. 

Need more help?

Call us on 0345 772 6100. We're here 8.30am to 8.30pm - seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Call the RCN on: 03457726100


Page last updated - 09/09/2019