Maternity and paternity leave

Aims of the policy

This policy guide is aimed to help employees understand their rights and obligations in relation to maternity leave and paternity leave.

To act as a guide to management in how to deal with employees who are pregnant or employees who request paternity leave.

Who is it for?

WarningWarning: There have been changes to legislation on maternity and paternity leave

Fathers of children born on or after 3 April 2011 now have the right to additional paternity leave. Read more

The Government is also consulting on introducing a new system of flexible parental leave, which it is aiming to introduce in April 2015. Read more

Find up-to-date information maternity, paternity and adoption rights here or use the resources below:

It should be communicated to management and all employees. It is particularly important that all levels of management are fully aware of the contents of this policy and are able to comply with the legal obligations of the company in relation to notices and time off. This policy should be read in conjunction with the equal opportunities policy.

Essential elements

All pregnant employees are protected against less favourable treatment on the grounds of their pregnancy. Less favourable treatment of an employee on the grounds that she takes or will take maternity leave would amount to unlawful sex discrimination.

Antenatal care

A pregnant employee is entitled to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care. This includes appointments with her GP, at hospital and antenatal classes. 

Health and safety

If there is any potential risk to a pregnant employee then there is an obligation to carry out a risk assessment. To remove or reduce the risk may lead to the employee’s duties being temporarily changed, or if there is no other option, suspension of the employee on full pay.  


Employees should notify their line manager of the pregnancy as soon as possible.  This is a precautionary measure for health and safety reasons and the information should be treated as confidential if requested.  

A copy of the MATB1 certificate should be provided to the line manager. This document may be requested from a GP. It will identify the Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC). For these purposes this will commence on the Sunday on or before the due date.   

The employee must notify her line manager/HR officer of the intended start date in writing no later than the end of the 15th week before the EWC. The employee will be given notice of the date she is expected to return to work following the maternity leave within 28 days.

Starting maternity leave

Unless the baby is born sooner, the earliest date that an employee can start maternity leave is the 11th week before the start of the EWC.  An employee may delay the start of maternity leave up until the date of the birth. 

The maternity leave will automatically commence if the employee is off sick from work wholly or partly for pregnancy-related reasons (even for just one day) after the beginning of the 4th week before the EWC. 

Duration of maternity leave

All employees are entitled to Ordinary Maternity Leave of 26 weeks.  They can take less than 26 weeks if they wish but they cannot return to work within the first two weeks of the birth. 

If they have 26 weeks’ continuous service in or before the 15th week before the EWC they will also be entitled to Additional Maternity Leave.   This follows on immediately after Ordinary Maternity Leave for as long as they choose, up to a maximum of a further 26 weeks. 

Statutory Maternity Pay

In order to qualify the employee must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service in or before the 15th week and must have paid National Insurance Contributions for each of the eight weeks ending with the 15th week before the EWC.

Employees who do not qualify for SMP may be entitled to a Statutory Maternity Allowance (SMA) which is payable by the government. 

SMP is paid for up to 26 weeks with the first six weeks at 90% of normal pay and the rest at the standard rate of SMP or 90% of normal pay if this is less than the standard rate.

Terms and conditions

During the Ordinary Maternity Leave period all of the terms and conditions of employment with the exception of pay continue.

During Additional Maternity Leave only limited terms continue, including the implied term as to trust and confidence, disciplinary and grievance procedures and notice provisions.

Return to work

An employee on maternity leave has the right to return to their original role or a suitable alternative, and the terms and conditions will not be less favourable than before.

No notice is needed if the employee returns at the end of the full period of maternity leave.

In order to return earlier it is required that the employee should give at least four weeks’ written notice to the line manager/HR officer. The return date may in some circumstances be postponed up to the date of the end of the maternity leave period. 

Paternity leave

An employee will be entitled to paternity leave if he or she:

  • is or expects to have responsibility for the child’s upbringing;
  • is the biological father or alternatively the partner of the biological mother; or
  • has legally adopted the child or is the partner of the person who has legally adopted the child.

To qualify as a “partner” the employee must live in an enduring family relationship.  Gay and lesbian couples can qualify as partners.

The employee must supply a signed declaration that the conditions of entitlement and that the purpose of the leave is to care for the child or to support the child’s mother (or adopter).

The employee has to have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service at the 15th week before the EWC or the week of being matched for adoption.

The maximum duration is two weeks and must be taken within 56 days of the birth or adoption placement.

Notification requirements

Employees must give notice to the line manager/HR officer of their intention to take paternity leave and of:

  • the EWC/the date on which the child is expected to be placed with the adopter;
  • the length of paternity leave they intend to take (one or two weeks); and
  • the date on which they intend to start their paternity leave. 

Statutory Paternity Pay

This is paid at a standard rate (£108.85 for April 2006/07).

Employees must have average earnings above the lower limit for National Insurance Contributions.

Key legislation

Employment Rights Act 1996

Employment Relations Act 1999

Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999 (as amended)

Useful links

Department of Trade and Industry guidance


Equal Opportunities Commission

Directgov advice

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