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Maternity pay and entitlement

4 min read | 1 September, 2021 By Aimée O'Callaghan


All UK employers have a duty of care to pregnant women and new mothers. This ranges from carrying out maternity risk assessments in the workplace (and for homeworkers) to providing post-partum support, in terms of maternity leave and maternity pay.

Maternity leave has been a legal requirement in the UK since 1975. For the first 15 years after this legislation, only around half of working women were able to benefit (due to the long periods of employment that were required to qualify for maternity pay). Fortunately, statutory updates since then have made maternity leave and pay more accessible. 

In this article, we'll look at maternity pay and employment law related to maternity leave, as well as setting out the legal requirements for UK employers.

What's the difference between maternity leave and maternity pay?

Maternity leave

Maternity pay

Notice period and proof of pregnancy

What's the difference between maternity leave and maternity pay?

Maternity leave is the time employees take off from work after they have given birth, and maternity pay is how much they are paid in the weeks and months following the arrival of their new child.

Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay are two different entitlements, with different eligibility criteria set by the government. Some companies may offer different maternity pay allowances, or offer enhanced contractual maternity pay.

Maternity leave

How long is maternity leave?

Maternity leave can cover a period of up to 52 weeks in total, for eligible employees.

Maternity leave is broken down into:

Ordinary Maternity Leave- which entails the first 26 weeks of leave and Additional Maternity Leave- the last 26 weeks.

Compulsory leave

Employees will need to take at least 2 of these weeks after the baby is born- if you work in a factory, this amount is increased to 4 weeks.

Shared Parental Leave (also known as SPL) is the shared leave available to either or both parents.

Who is entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave?

Employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave if:

  • They have an employment contract (regardless of how long they’ve worked for the organisation)
  • They’ve provided their organisation with the correct notice

 What is the required notice for maternity leave?

By law, an employee will need to let their employer know:

  • The date that the baby is due, and
  • The date they intend to start their maternity leave.

Employees need to inform their employer of these dates at least 15 weeks before the baby is due.

If you need to work out allowances for expectant parents, you can use this helpful maternity, adoption and paternity calculator

Maternity pay 

Who is eligible to receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

  • Employees will need to be listed on the organisation’s payroll in the ‘qualifying week’ (this is the 15th week before the week the baby is due to arrive).
  • Employees will need to have provided the correct notice and proof of pregnancy
  • They will also need to have been continuously employed by your organisation for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the qualifying week
  • They will need to earn at least £120 a week in an 8 week ‘relevant period’

Notice period and proof of pregnancy

Pregnant employees will need to provide 28 days’ notice to their employer, advising of the date they want to start their Statutory Maternity Pay (this is usually the same date that maternity leave starts, too).

If this notice isn’t provided (and there’s no reasonable reason it hasn’t been provided) then employers can legally refuse to pay Statutory Maternity Pay.

Employees that don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay may be eligible to receive Maternity Allowance.

Proof of pregnancy

Employees will also need to provide their employer with medical proof of their pregnancy, in order that Statutory Maternity Pay can be paid. This can include a doctor’s letter, or a certificate often referred to as a MATB1 certificate. Evidence will need to be provided to the company within 21 days of the start date of maternity pay. Doctors or midwives usually issue these certificates around 20 weeks before the expected due date.

What are employees’ rights when on maternity leave?

Employment rights are protected when employees are on Statutory Maternity leave. This includes their right to return to work, holiday accrual and pay rises.

So far, we’ve covered what you need to know as an employer (and employee) when it comes to maternity pay and entitlement. We also provide a free parental rights guide which includes more detailed information about the law and employers’ obligations.

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Posted on 1 September, 2021

By Aimée O'Callaghan

in Employment Law

Tag Employment Law

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