When you become pregnant it is important to understand what your maternity rights are and what you are entitled to.
How much leave are you entitled to?
Every pregnant woman is currently entitled to 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave. You may then also take an extra 26 weeks of additional maternity leave, giving you a year's leave in total meaning that you'll have taken your full statutory maternity leave. You don’t have to take 52 weeks but you must take 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born (or 4 weeks if you work in a factory).
It is important to remember that can take this time off regardless of how long you've been in your job, how many hours you work, or how much you are being paid provided that you have given your employer the correct amount of notice. Bear in mind that you must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice if you want to change your return to work date.
Moreover, your employment rights are protected while on Statutory Maternity Leave including your right to pay rises, to build up (accrue) holiday and to return to work.
Shared parental leave
Shared parental leave is a very popular option for many couples as it gives parents more choice and flexibility in how they share the care of their new baby. If you choose not to take all your maternity leave, shared parental leave allows your partner to take your remaining maternity leave entitlement while you return to work. On the other hand, you could both take it in turns to stay at home with your baby, splitting any remaining maternity leave you have between you or you could both stay home with your baby together.
You and your partner may also qualify for statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) and you will need to tell your employers that you'll be taking shared parental leave and that you want to claim ShPP.
Statutory Maternity pay
Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is a weekly payment from your employer and you will qualify for maternity pay if you've been working for the same employer without a break for at least 26 weeks up to the end of the 15th week your baby is due. You can work this out by finding the Sunday before your due date and then counting back 15 weeks.
SMP is paid for a continuous period of up to 39 weeks. For the first six weeks, you'll be paid 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings with no upper limit.
For the following 33 weeks, you will be paid the standard rate of £136.78, or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever rate is lower. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.
Your company has its own maternity policy and offers more pay and benefits than the statutory minimum so it is a good idea to look out for this.
If you have more than one job, you may be able to get SMP from both employers. However, you'll need to meet the qualifying conditions for both jobs.
In order to claim SMP you must inform your employer and probably put this in writing perhaps with maternity (MAT B1) certificate, which confirms your pregnancy and due date.
If you don't qualify for SMP, you may be still able to claim maternity allowance which is usually awarded to you if you've changed jobs during pregnancy, are self-employed, or have been unemployed during pregnancy and it can be claimed after you've been pregnant for 26 weeks.
Maternity allowance can be paid from 11 weeks before your baby is due for up to 39 weeks. You'll get £136.78, or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever rate is lower.
To claim maternity allowance, you must download the MA1 form on the government’s website or call: 0800 055 6688. You will need to fill out the form with information such as evidence of your income, proof of your baby's due date and your SMP1 form, if you received one from your employer.
For more information, check out the GOV.UK pages or to find out exactly what you may be entitled to contact your HR department Citizens Advice Bureau or trade union representative.