Covers the legislation, the length of maternity leave, whether the leave is paid or not, the effect on continuity of service and annual leave, notice periods, termination while on maternity leave, the right to return to work, time off for breastfeeding, ante-natal classes and natal care, postponement of maternity leave, sickness while on maternity leave, bonus payments, right to appraisals, and entitlement to maternity leave for fixed term and agency workers.

The Maternity Protection Act 1994 and Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 provide protection for women on maternity leave.

There is no qualifying time period before an employee can take maternity leave. An employee can be in work for one week or one month or might have become pregnant before they even start working and their entitlement to maternity leave arises once they comply with the notification requirements.

Maternity and additional maternity leave

The minimum period of maternity leave is six weeks. This has to be taken not later than two weeks before the birth and not earlier than four weeks after the birth. This minimum period of maternity leave can be varied in circumstances where the baby either comes earlier than anticipated or there is a late birth.

The maximum statutory entitlement is 26 weeks. In addition, there is an entitlement to additional maternity leave of 16 weeks allowing for a 42 week absence.

Notice periods

Employees are required to notify their employers in writing of their intention to take maternity leave not later than four weeks before the commencement of maternity leave. Employees must also produce a medical or other appropriate certificate confirming the pregnancy and specifying the expected week of confinement (the date that they are due to give birth) at the same time. This is a mandatory requirement under Section 9 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 as amended by the 2004 Act.

Employees wishing to take additional maternity leave must notify their employer in writing of their intention to do so. Notification can be given at the same time as the application for maternity leave or not later than four weeks before their expected return date.

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