Maternity and Your Rights

Becoming a parent is a significant milestone in life and for many employees; it also raises questions about their rights in the workplace during pregnancy and maternity leave. England has robust laws in place to support expectant and new mothers in the workforce.

 In this blog we will explore the rights and entitlements that pregnant employees and new mothers are entitled to.

Statutory Maternity Leave and Pay

One of the most crucial aspects of maternity rights in the UK is statutory maternity leave and pay. Eligible employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, consisting of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave (AML).

During the first six weeks, employees can receive 90% of your average weekly earning. Then followed by £151.97 or 90% of employees average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

Some companies will offer an enhanced maternity package. Employees should check their contract/work policies to see if this is applicable.

Employees wishing to return early to work 

If an employee intends to return to work prior to the conclusion of statutory maternity leave, the employee should:

  • provide the employer with a minimum of eight weeks’ advance notice regarding the return date and;
  • provide this notice to in writing for documentation purposes.

The employer has the discretion to permit the employee to return with shorter or no notice.

Pensions During Maternity Leave

With regard to pension contributions employers are generally required to maintain their current level of pension contributions subject to certain conditions.


Employers are permitted to allow for a proportional reduction in bonuses for employees on maternity leave when they are meant as deferred compensation for work already completed or as incentives for future work, in order to account for the time spent on maternity leave (excluding compulsory maternity leave). Any greater reduction would be unlawful.

Notifying Your Employer 

An employee must tell their employer that they are pregnant no later than the 15th week before the baby is due.  However, the employer must be aware of the pregnancy to benefit from any rights.

Employers should be notified:

  • when the employee is pregnant;
  • what the date of the week the baby is due
  • the date the employee wants to start maternity leave

It’s a good idea for an employee to put this in an email or letter, as an employer might want it in writing.

Protection from Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination are illegal in the UK. This means that employers cannot treat any employee unfairly due to pregnancy or maternity leave.

However, a survey carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in June 2017 found:

  • 77% of mothers surveyed said that they had had a negative and possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave or after their return from maternity leave (Source Practical Law).

Time Off for Antenatal Care

Equally, legislation provides expectant mothers with statutory rights in relation to time off for antenatal care.  Employers must provide paid time off for these appointments and cannot discriminate against employees for attending them.

Flexible Working Arrangements

Balancing work and childcare can be challenging. However, the UK provides the statutory right to request flexible working, including asking to change hours of work after maternity leave ends, backed up by protection from indirect sex discrimination.

Keeping in Touch Days

To help employees stay connected with the workplace during maternity leave, employees have the option to work up to 10 Keeping in Touch days without losing any maternity pay or leave entitlement.

Paternity Rights

Fathers in the UK also have rights to paternity leave and pay. Understanding these rights can help couples plan their maternity and paternity leave in a way that suits their family’s needs.

Shared Parental Leave

Furthermore, the UK offers Shared Parental Leave, allowing parents to share leave and pay entitlements, providing even more flexibility for working parents.

UK Government report on shared parental leave reveals a low take-up by eligible parents: only 1 per cent of eligible mothers and 5 per cent of eligible fathers or partners are taking it (Source The Lawyer).

Other points:

Maternity Key Rights for Agency Workers

If a pregnant woman works through an agency, they are required to inform the agency the dates they will be off.

Agency workers qualify for

  • time off for antenatal appointments (after 12 weeks);
  • Up to 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay;
  • Protection from discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity and;
  • Health and safety protection for new and expectant mothers.

Other Non employees Maternity Rights

Other non-employees also qualify for protection from discrimination provided they fall within the wider definition of employment in the Equality Act 2010.

Protected Characteristics

Pregnancy and maternity is one of nine “protected characteristics” covered by The Equality Act 2010. The legislation prohibits unfavourable treatment in relation to pregnancy and maternity in particular circumstances.  For example, replacing an agency worker because he/she is frequently off with morning sickness could be discriminatory.

In conclusion, significant progress has been made to safeguard the rights of women during pregnancy and motherhood, providing them with essential protections and support. These rights have played a pivotal role in empowering women to balance their professional and family lives. 

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