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Returning to work after maternity leave

Changing your maternity leave return date

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Changing your maternity leave return date

If you change your mind about the length of your maternity leave, or decide not to go back to work at all, these are the things you need to know.


Find out your options, and how not going back to work will affect your pension.

Want to tweak your maternity leave dates to get more time with your baby? Or are you looking into not returning to work at all? First use our returning to work budget plan to work out what you can afford. 

Ask the Which? Money Helpline

If you want to talk through your budget calculations with someone to find out if there is any extra income you could claim, call Which? Money Helpline. The service is free for all Which? members. Not a member? Sign up for a £1 trial.

Changing your mind about returning to work 

When you arrange with your employer to take maternity leave, most will assume you will be away for a year unless you tell them you want to return earlier. You can change your mind about when you want to return to work. If you want to return sooner or later than originally planned, you need to give your employer at least eight weeks' notice.

While on maternity leave, if you change your mind about going back to work and decide you want to leave your current job completely, you will need to give the normal amount of notice as stated in your contract.

Deciding not to return to work after maternity leave

If you decide you're not going to return to work, you won't need to to pay back any statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. Some employers offer more generous benefits than statutory maternity pay, known as contractual maternity pay, and you may have to pay this back if you decide you don't want to go back to work after 52 weeks. You should check in your contract to find out if this would apply to you, and also how long you will have to remain at the company to keep your full contractual maternity pay.

If you decide not to go back to work, you will no longer be making contributions to the pension scheme you have with your employer. If you retire after 2016, you will need a minimum of 10 years of National Insurance contributions to claim any state pension at all, and you must have worked for 35 years to claim your full state pension. 

Time out from work could mean a potential future loss in earnings. You could consider paying into a savings account or private pension scheme while you're not working. 

Maternity leave: know your rights

  1. You must take at least two weeks' maternity leave before returning to work, or four weeks if you work in a factory.
  2. You might have to repay your contractual maternity pay if you decide not to go back to work after having your baby.
  3. From April 2015, you might be able to get shared parental leave.
  4. Once you have returned to work, you are entitled to take a 'reasonable' amount of time off to care for your child if he or she becomes ill, but there's no set amount of time as it depends on the situation. Your employer may ask you to take annual leave or parental leave if you want to look after your child for longer.
  5. You have to work a minimum of 10 years to be entitled to a basic state pension.

Our consumer rights website has more information relating to your rights while on maternity leave.