Your family finances

Working parents: pay, leave and employment rights

10 min read

Employed and expecting a baby? It’s important to understand what time off work and pay you’re entitled to once your baby arrives, as well as during the pregnancy – we explain the key options.

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Statutory maternity leave and pay

What is it?

Statutory maternity leave is, quite simply, time off from your job to have a baby. You’re entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, split into 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and another 26 of additional maternity leave.

As a minimum, mothers need to take at least two weeks’ leave after they’ve given birth (or four weeks if you work in a factory).

If you return to work during or at the end of ordinary maternity leave, you’re entitled to return to your old job. However, it’s not quite as clear-cut if you take the additional maternity leave: you may still return to your old job, but you may also be offered appropriate similar employment (on no less favourable terms) if it’s not reasonably possible for your employer to give you your old job back.

Providing you’re eligible (more on this below), you’ll also be entitled to statutory maternity pay from your employer. This is paid for up to 39 weeks, which means you’ll still receive some income for the entirety of ordinary maternity leave, and for 13 weeks after that.

Am I eligible?

To qualify for statutory maternity leave, you need to be classified as an employee, not a ‘worker’. For example, those on fixed-term contracts with a company may not be eligible.

You also need to give notice to your employer that you’re planning to take maternity leave, and this must be done by the end of the 15th week before the week that your baby is due (so by the time you’re 25 weeks pregnant).

Whether you’re eligible for statutory maternity pay is slightly more complicated. You need to:

  • Have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week that your baby is due
  • Earn on average at least £116 per week
  • Give proof of your pregnancy, and your due date, to your employer.

How much is it?

Statutory maternity pay is payable for 39 weeks. For the first six weeks, it’s paid at 90% of your average weekly earnings. For the following 33 weeks (if you take them), you’ll get either 90% of your average weekly earnings or £145.18 a week – whichever is lower.

£145.18 is the statutory maternity pay rate for the 2018/19 tax year (and is reviewed every April).

Some employers offer better maternity pay to people who’ve worked at the company for a longer period – so it’s worth checking out your company’s policy. However, the extra money you receive may need to be repaid if you don’t return to the company after maternity leave.

How do I claim it?

To qualify for maternity leave, tell your employer that you’re pregnant and the expected week that your baby is due – you need to do this by the end of your 25th week of pregnancy.

At this point, you should also tell your employer when you plan to start your maternity leave (this can usually be any time from 11 weeks before the expected due date, up to the birth).

To claim maternity pay, you’ll need to hand in your Maternity Certificate (MAT B1) to your employer as proof that you’re pregnant – this certificate can be issued by your midwife after you’ve had your mid-pregnancy scan. You don’t have to give this in by the 25th week of pregnancy, but you should get it to your employer as early as possible.


Maternity allowance

What is it?

Maternity allowance is a government benefit usually for women who don’t qualify for statutory maternity pay.

You can claim it as soon as you’ve been pregnant for 26 weeks, and payments can start 11 weeks before your due date.

Am I eligible?

To qualify for 39 weeks of maternity allowance, one of the following needs to apply:

  • You’re employed but you’re not eligible for statutory maternity pay.
  • You’re self-employed and pay class 2 National Insurance.
  • You’ve recently stopped working.

In the 66 weeks before your baby is due, you must also have been employed (or self-employed) for at least 26 weeks, and earning £30 a week or more for at least 13 of those weeks.

If you’re self-employed, you must also have paid class 2 National Insurance for at least 13 of the 66 weeks.

If you don’t qualify for 39 weeks of maternity allowance, you may still be able to receive it for 14 weeks. You might be eligible if the following applies for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is due:

  • You’re married or in a civil partnership.
  • You’re neither employed nor self-employed.
  • You take part in the business of your self-employed spouse or civil partner, and you’re not paid for it.
  • Your spouse or civil partner is registered as self-employed with HMRC and should pay class 2 National Insurance.
  • Your spouse or civil partner is working as a self-employed person.

How much is it?

What you’ll receive depends on eligibility. You can get either:

  • £145.18/week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks.
  • £27/week for 39 weeks (for self-employed people who haven’t paid enough class 2 National Insurance contributions).
  • £27/week for 14 weeks.

How do I claim it?

You’ll need to fill in the maternity allowance claim form (MA1) – there are digital and printable versions on – and send this to the address printed on the form.

Your employment rights during pregnancy

Aside from your rights to maternity leave and pay, or maternity allowance, you have other legal rights as a pregnant employee.

  • Paid time off for antenatal care: Your employer must allow you to take time off for antenatal care, and pay you your normal rate. ‘Antenatal care’ doesn’t just refer to medical appointments; this can also include parenting or antenatal classes if they’ve been recommended by a doctor or midwife.
  • Protection against discrimination: It’s against the law to discriminate against anyone because of being pregnant. Your employer also can’t change your contract terms and conditions without agreement.
  • Health and safety: When you tell your employer that you’re pregnant, they should assess any risks to you and your baby – and take reasonable steps to remove them. Risks could be caused by heavy lifting or carrying, standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks, exposure to toxic substances, or long working hours. If your employer can’t remove any of the risks, they should suspend you on full pay.
  • Pregnancy-related illness: If you’re unable to work due to a pregnancy-related illness, you may be eligible for employment and support allowance. If you are off because of the pregnancy in the four weeks before your baby is due, and you are eligible for statutory maternity leave and pay, this will start automatically from the date you were first absent.


Statutory paternity leave and pay

What is it?

If you’re a father-to-be or your partner is expecting a baby, you’re entitled to choose between one or two weeks’ paternity leave. You need to take it in one go, and it can’t start until the baby’s been born.

Am I eligible?

To qualify for paternity leave, you must be taking the time off to look after the baby and you need to be one of the following:

  • the child’s father
  • the husband or partner of the mother – this includes same-sex partners
  • the child’s adopter, or
  • the intended parent (if you’re having a baby through a surrogate).

You’re eligible for paternity leave if you have a contract of employment and you’ve been working for the same employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week that your baby is due.

To qualify for paternity pay, you also need to earn at least £116 a week.

How much is it?

You’ll receive either £145.18 per week or 90% of your average earnings – whichever is lower.

How do I claim it?

All you need to do to claim statutory paternity leave is to give your employer written notice at least 15 weeks before the baby’s due date.

If you’re claiming for paternity pay, you’ll need to give your employer form SC3 – or your employer’s own version.

Shared parental leave and pay

What is it?

Different from maternity and paternity leave, this allows parents to share time off after having a baby. Parents can also choose to take blocks of leave separated by periods of work if they want to, rather than having to take all the leave in one go.

The mother will need to end her maternity leave, and maternity allowance or maternity pay, in order for both parents to start paid shared parental leave.

It can last up to 52 weeks, and it’s up to you and your partner to divide this up between yourselves. However, all leave must be used between the birth of your baby and their first birthday.

Am I eligible?

To qualify for shared parental leave, you need to meet the following conditions:

  • You share responsibility for your child with your partner.
  • You’ve been employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week that your baby is due.
  • You remain with the same employer while you take shared parental leave.

Both parents will be eligible for shared parental pay, so long as they would individually be eligible for statutory maternity pay / maternity allowance / adoption pay / paternity pay.

How much is it?

Shared parental pay is paid for up to 39 weeks, and it’s either £145.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

How do I claim it?

Each parent needs to give notice to their employer at least eight weeks before the first period of shared parental leave.

If you plan on taking periods of leave separated by blocks of work, you’ll need to give your employer notice at least eight weeks before each period of leave that you want to take.

Having problems with your employer?

Your employer should agree to statutory leave and pay so long as you’ve given the correct notice and you’re eligible.

If your employer refuses, ask them to explain why. If you’re not satisfied, you may still be able to take action.

As a first step, it may be worth double-checking your work contract and the company’s policies, and contacting your company’s HR team or getting in touch with your trade union representative to see what you are entitled to.

You could also contact Maternity Action for more information about your rights. The Maternity Rights Advice Line number is 0808 802 0029 – and is open 11am-2pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

You may also like to contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which works with employers and employees to solve workplace problems through their free Early Conciliation service. The Acas helpline number is 0300 123 1100 and is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are feeling uncertain about taking further steps or would like more information on where you stand you could seek legal advice.

If the matter is still not resolved, you may wish to take action in the Employment Tribunal. Bear in mind that you must go through the Early Conciliation process with Acas before you can commence a claim in the Tribunal. Acas will then try to settle the dispute with your employer, avoiding the need for more formal Tribunal proceedings.

It is also important to note that you must contact Acas to commence Early Conciliation within three months-less-one day of your employer’s refusal to agree to the requested pay or leave.

Universal Credit

Whether you’re currently in work or not, you may be able to claim for universal credit. This is a new government benefits model that’s being rolled out across the UK. It replaces seven existing benefits with one payment. These include:

  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Working tax credit
  • Income support

Find out whether you’re eligible, how the new system works and more by reading Which? Money’s clear and handy universal credit guide.

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