Everything Employers Need to Know About Maternity Leave

October 7, 2019
5 mins read

It’s a situation that every employer have to face at some moment in their company’s life: your employee tells you that they are pregnant, and that they plan to go on maternity leave. 

The UK government gives employers certain obligations towards their employees, so it’s important to stay on the right side of the law and give your employees the benefits they are due. 

To make things easier for you, we’ve compiled the answers to the most frequently asked questions employers have about offering maternity leave and laid them all out here. 

 

How long can my employees go on maternity leave for? 

Short Answer: Employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, starting any time after 11 weeks before the due date. 

Expectant mothers can choose to take less than this if they want to, but they are obligated to take at least the two weeks after the birth off to recover from the experience and bond with their newborn. 

Employees can start their maternity leave as early as 11 weeks before the expected due date. That said, most people will choose to start their leave closer to the birth to maximise their time with the newborn. 

You should sit down with your employee after they tell you that they are pregnant to decide when and for how long they would like to go on leave. They should give you at least 15 weeks notice before the due date, and give you an indication of when they intend to start their leave. They can amend this date up until 28 days before the leave begins. 

 

What am I obligated to pay? 

Short Answer: You are obligated to give employees up to 39 weeks of statutory pay: at least 90% of their weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, and at least £148.68 or 90% of their weekly earnings for the remaining 33 weeks. 

Naturally, you can offer more than this if you want to. Many companies choose to set up their own payment schedules in order to make their offering more competitive. For instance, TfL provides employees with full pay for 26 weeks before this is reduced to the minimum statutory pay. 

 

Is my employee eligible?

Short Answer: Employees must have been with the company for at least 26 weeks prior to the ‘qualifying week’, 15 weeks before the due date. 

There are other requirements too: for example, the employee must give you the correct notice, and give you proof of the pregnancy for your records. You can use this handy calculator to determine whether your employee is eligible for maternity leave. 

 

Who’s going to do their job while they’re away? 

Short Answer: You can hire a contractor or temporary worker to cover for your employee while they are on leave. However, you are obligated to take the employee back when they finish their leave. 

Naturally, your employee’s responsibilities will still need to be taken care of while they are away. Most companies hire a contractor for the time that the employee is expected to be on leave. Keep in mind that you must make it clear to any replacement workers that the position is temporary.

When your employee is ready to return from leave, you must give them their job back. In some cases, if the person has been on leave for over 26 weeks, you might be able to give them a similar job on similar terms instead of their original job. However, you have to prove that giving the employee their original job back  is not ‘reasonably practicable’. 

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What about paternity leave?

Short Answer: New fathers are entitled to 2 weeks of leave after the birth at 90% of their weekly earnings or £148.68 per week. 

If one of your employees is about to become a father, they are also entitled to statutory leave and pay. They can either take this in the two weeks immediately after the birth or at a later date within the child’s first year.

Parents can also choose to take shared parental leave instead of standard maternity leave. This means that the mother chooses to end her leave early, and the rest of the leave, as well as the statutory pay due, can be shared between the parents. As such, parents can each stay at home for part of the leave, or take a shorter leave at home together. 

 

Can I claim back money I pay out to employees on leave?

Short Answer: Yes, at least some of it. Depending on the size of your organisation you can claim back either all or 92% of what you pay out as statutory maternity pay. 

The good news is that most of the cost of statutory maternity pay can be claimed back. If you’re a small business (paying less than £45,000 in Class One National Insurance contributions), you can claim back all the maternity pay you pay out, plus an extra 3%. 

If you don’t qualify for this rebate, you can still claim back 92% of what you pay out. 

 

What if I can’t afford to pay? 

Short Answer: There are government loans available to help small companies fund their employees’ statutory maternity/ paternity/ adoption pay. 

As a small business, cash flow can be a problem. Luckily, if you can’t afford to make the maternity payments alongside hiring a replacement worker, you can apply online for a loan from HMRC up to 4 weeks before the first payment is due. 

 

What can I do to make my maternity leave offer more competitive? 

We’ve gone over what you are obligated to do for expecting employees, but many companies choose to offer a more comprehensive maternity package. Offering such a benefit can help boost the desirability of your workplace, as well as show your employees that you genuinely care about them. 

A few things that you can do to improve your company’s maternity package include: 

  • Considering a more generous payment schedule
  • Offering employees flexible working arrangements before and after their leave
  • Offering fathers more time off
  • Sending new parents a gift bundle as congratulations
  • Choosing an employee benefits platform that offers physical and mental support for new parents

Written by Emilie Coalson

Writer by day, foodie by night, traveller at heart, startup enthusiast, cat lover.

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