What are your maternity leave entitlements in the UK?

How much maternity leave are you entitled to in the UK? Liz Stevens and Naomi Butt of Birketts LLP explain what you need to know about your maternity leave and pay entitlements.

Maternity Leave Pay UK

How much maternity leave are you entitled to in the UK?

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999, all employees who give birth to a child during their employment must take a minimum of two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave. If an employee works in a factory, this statutory minimum is four weeks (Public Health Act 1936). This period begins from the date of childbirth.

Including this statutory minimum of two (or four) weeks, an eligible employee (see below) is entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave.

The earliest an employee can begin their maternity leave is 11 weeks before the ‘expected week of childbirth’ (EWC), unless the baby is born early. The start date may be altered if the employee gives their employer at least 28 days’ notice, either ending with the original or new start date, whichever is earlier.

If an employee wants to return to work before their full entitlement ends, they must give at least eight weeks’ notice to their employer.

Who is eligible for maternity leave in the UK?

The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 set out the eligibility criteria for taking statutory maternity leave. The individual must be an employee for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (that is, not a worker or a self-employed contractor), and must notify their employer no later than the end of the 15th week before the EWC (the ‘Qualifying Week’) of:

  • their pregnancy
  • the EWC
  • the intended start date of maternity leave
  • if their employer requests, a certificate from a registered medical practitioner or registered midwife which states the EWC (usually a MAT B1 form from their midwife)

A pregnant employee can be full- or part-time, or on a fixed term or permanent contract to qualify for maternity leave, and there is no minimum length of service. Although they are not obliged to notify their employer until the Qualifying Week, it is best to do so as early as possible in order to benefit from paid time off for antenatal care and statutory protection from maternity discrimination.

How much is Statutory Maternity Pay in the UK?

An employee who has at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment by the Qualifying Week, and whose average earnings are above the lower earnings limit, will be entitled to receive statutory maternity pay (SMP) for up to 39 weeks:

  • For the first six weeks, an employee receives 90 per cent of their gross average weekly earnings.
  • For the remaining 33 weeks, an employee will receive either 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings or the prescribed rate of SMP (currently £151.97 per week), whichever is lower.

SMP is subject to tax and National Insurance deductions and will be paid in the same way as the employee’s normal wages.

What are your rights when on maternity leave?

Pay rises

If an employee is eligible for a pay rise at any point between the commencement of the relevant period (the eight weeks preceding the Qualifying Week) and the end of their statutory maternity leave, SMP will be recalculated and increased as if the employee had received the pay rise at the beginning of the relevant period. An employee on maternity leave may also be entitled to receive a bonus (usually pro-rated), depending on the terms of the bonus scheme.

Accruing holiday

An employee on maternity leave will continue to accrue holiday entitlement under The Working Time Regulations 1998 and under the terms of their contract. Holiday cannot be taken during maternity leave, and so an employee may carry over accrued but untaken holiday into the next holiday year.

Keeping in touch

By mutual agreement with their employer, an employee may work for up to 10 ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days during their maternity leave, without bringing their maternity leave to an end or losing their entitlement to SMP. KIT days should be paid at the employee’s usual rate of pay.

Return to work

If an employee has only taken up to 26 weeks’ maternity leave (known as ‘ordinary maternity leave’), they are entitled to return to the same role that they had prior to taking maternity leave.

If an employee takes more than 26 weeks’ maternity leave (known as ‘additional maternity leave’), or takes a period of shared parental leave or parental leave on top of her ordinary maternity leave, and if it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to reinstate them into the same role, the employee may return to a ‘suitable and appropriate’ role.

In both cases, the terms of employment on return must be either the same or at least as favourable as those prior to maternity leave.


An employee’s maternity leave will end if they are dismissed during this period, but they will continue to be entitled to receive SMP until their entitlement period ends.

If an employee is made redundant whilst on maternity leave, they will be entitled to statutory redundancy pay. Employers should have regard to the ACAS guidance on managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave to ensure their procedure is fair and lawful. An employee on maternity leave whose role is redundant is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, if one is available. It is automatically unfair to dismiss an employee or to select them for redundancy for a reason connected to their pregnancy or maternity leave.

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 and gives employees a more flexible way to take leave to care for a child within the first year of birth or adoption placement. A mother or primary adopter may choose to end their maternity or adoption leave to share their remaining entitlement with the other parent as SPL. This allows the mother or primary adopter to return to work without giving up the rest of their entitlement to leave.

About the author

Liz Stevens is a Professional Support Lawyer at Birketts LLP who specialises in employment law.

Naomi is a Trainee Solicitor in the Employment Team at Birketts LLP.

See also

What are your paternity leave entitlements in the UK?

Why are so few parents opting for shared parental leave?

Gender pay gap reporting: what employers need to know in 2021

Find out more

Maternity pay and leave (GOV.UK)

Employment Rights Act 1996 (Legislation)

The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 (Legislation)

Public Health Act 1936 (Legislation)

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (Legislation)

Managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave (ACAS)

Children and Families Act 2014 (Legislation)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 7 October 2021

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.