As an employer, you’re required by law to offer your employees maternity leave. But how much do you have to offer? And what else do you need to consider if you want to give your employees a fair deal?

This is your essential employer’s guide. We’ll take a look at what UK law has to say about the issue, before offering some tips on creating the best maternity leave policy for your business.

What is Maternity Leave?

UK law states that, when someone takes time off to have a baby, they are eligible for Statutory Maternity Leave, or Statutory maternity Pay.

They’re also eligible for paid time off for antenatal care, as well as some extra help from the government. All employment rights are protected for the duration and include pay rises and accrued holiday.

When Are Employees Eligible for Maternity Leave?

An employee is eligible for maternity leave if they’re an employee, as opposed to a “worker”. You can learn about the difference here.

Beyond this, all that’s required is that the employee gives you sufficient notice before taking their leave. They must tell you at least 15 weeks before their due date when they want to start their leave. You can ask for this in writing, for your records, and you then have 28 days to confirm their start and end dates.

It doesn’t matter how long they’ve worked for you. It doesn’t matter how many hours a week they work, or how much they’re paid. So long as they’re an employee, and so long as they give their notice, they are eligible.

When Are Employees Eligible for Maternity Pay?

To qualify for maternity pay, an employee must earn on average at least £118 a week. They must have worked for you continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the qualifying week – that is, the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

Employees must give you sufficient notice – at least 28 days’, in writing, stating when they want their statutory pay to start. They also need to provide proof that they’re pregnant. This can be a letter from a doctor or a midwife, or the MATB1 certificate all expectant mothers receive before their due date.

If you find that your employee isn’t eligible for maternity pay, you must give them form SMP1 explaining why. You can download and print that form here.

When Are Employees Not Eligible?

Employees cannot take Statutory maternity leave when they’re having a child through surrogacy. There are separate arrangements for this. Employees are also not eligible if they go into police custody during their pay period. In this case, the arrangement is canceled, and it does not restart once they’re discharged.

However, employees can still receive Statutory Leave and Pay if their baby is born early, is stillborn after the start of their 24th week of pregnancy, or if their baby dies after being born. Obviously, these are rare and traumatic cases that you’ll have to handle with great care and sensitivity. Read our guide to compassionate leave here.

How Much Maternity Leave Do I Have to Offer?

Employees are entitled to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave. The first 26 weeks are classed as Ordinary maternity leave and the last 26 weeks as Additional maternity leave. This handy maternity planner will help you work out the difference between ordinary and additional leave.

Employees do not have to take this full 52 weeks. But they are required to take 2 weeks’ leave immediately after their baby is born. And if they work in a factory, they must take 4 weeks’ leave.

Most employees start their leave 11 weeks before their expected week of childbirth. If the baby comes early, the leave period will start the day after birth. And if an employee’s off for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before their due date, their leave will automatically start.

If an employee wants to change their date for returning to work, they have to give you at least 8 weeks’ notice.

How Much Maternity Pay Do I Have to Offer?

Employees can claim statutory pay for up to 39 weeks. For the first 6 weeks, they get 90% of their average weekly earnings, before tax. For the next 33 weeks, they get £148.68 a week, or 90% of their average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.

You pay exactly as you would ordinary wages – that is, weekly or monthly. And just like with ordinary wages, you’ll have to deduct tax and National Insurance.

Employees usually start receiving their statutory pay from the moment their leave period begins. It also starts automatically if they’re off for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before their baby is due.

Can Employees Share Their Leave and Pay with Their Partner?

Yes, some couples choose to share their parenting duties. They may take it in turns to take time off work to look after the newborn. This arrangement’s called Shared Parental Leave, and you can read our guide to it here.

We also have a guide to paternity leave and pay, which you’ll find here.

Finally, we have a guide to offering childcare vouchers as an employee benefit.

Maternity Leave Made Easy

So you have a legal obligation to offer maternity leave and pay. But hopefully, this guide will have reassured you that things aren’t too complicated.

But managing any kind of leave can be a challenge if you don’t have an efficient absence management system. It can be hard to ensure that everyone gets what they deserve, and to keep track of just how much leave each member of your team is entitled to.

With the e-days absence management system, booking maternity Leave is a straightforward process that can be completed in a matter of minutes. There’s no fuss and no need for any paperwork or long strings of emails.

And once an employee’s booked their leave, everyone can see how their absence affects the rest of the business. This makes it easier for managers to cover shifts to guarantee that there’s no loss to productivity.