I must admit that for most of my career to date I didn’t really think much about maternity leave and pay. While training to be an accountant, just getting on with the job (apologies if that sounded a little like Theresa May!), it wasn’t really on my radar. There did however come a point when I started thinking about it and realised that I didn’t really know anything about it, so here’s the basics:
Who is entitled to maternity leave?
Any employee with an employment contract is entitled to maternity leave, no matter how long they have worked for their employer, as long as they give notice of the date they want to start their maternity leave at least 15 weeks before the baby is due.
How long is maternity leave?
Maternity leave is split into ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ which total 52 weeks.
All new mothers must take at least 2 weeks off after childbirth (or 4 weeks if they are a factory worker) but do not have to take the full 52 weeks.
When does maternity leave start?
If there are no complications with the pregnancy, the employee can choose when to start maternity leave, but the earliest it can be started is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). If the baby is born early, leave starts the following day; it will also start automatically if the employee is off work for pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the EWC.
What about maternity pay? Who is entitled to that?
To be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, the employee must be on the payroll in the ‘qualifying week’ (the 15th week before the EWC) and have worked for that employer for at least 26 weeks before that week. In addition, they must provide proof of their pregnancy (a MATB1 form usually obtained from their midwife around the midpoint of the pregnancy) and earn at least £113 per week (gross) in the 8 weeks before the qualifying week.
Therefore not all those that are entitled to maternity leave will get maternity pay from their employer, but they may be able to get Maternity Allowance from the government instead.
How much is maternity pay?
Statutory maternity pay is payable for up to 39 weeks as follows:
- The first 6 weeks: 90% of the gross average weekly earnings (AWE)
- The remaining (up to) 33 weeks: £140.98 or 90% of the AWE (whichever is lower)
So while maternity leave can be up to 52 weeks, statutory pay isn’t for that whole time.
Maternity pay is paid in the same way as wages, with tax and national insurance deducted.
Additional contractual maternity pay, over the minimum statutory amount, can also be paid and is common in some industries and the public sector (for example 6 months at full- or half-pay).
What about Dads?
As a Mum-to-be myself I have focused this blog on maternity aspects, but Dads have an entitlement too! Dads are entitled to up to 2 consecutive weeks of leave but it can’t start before the birth and must finish within 56 days of the birth (or due date if the baby is early). Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is paid at the lower of £140.98 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings.
Alternatively, a couple may choose “Shared Parental Leave” – our Payroll Manager, Becky Edwards wrote a blog earlier in the year specifically on this subject please click here to read this.
Unpaid Parental Leave
Many people don’t know that this exists! Parents who have been with their employer for over a year can take unpaid time off to look after their child’s welfare, for example to spend more time with the child, settle them into nursery or look into schools. It is available for a total of up 18 weeks per child, up to their 18th birthday. It must be taken in whole weeks, at a maximum of 4 weeks at a time, unless the employer agrees otherwise.
Unpaid parental leave can be taken at any time (subject to giving 21 days notice) right from the birth of the child, so can be used in conjunction with maternity, paternity or shared parental leave.
The Employer Perspective
Employment rights continue while an employee is on maternity leave, for example the right to employer pension contributions, returning to a job and paid holiday (which accrues while on maternity leave at the employee’s number of days worked prior to leave, even if they come back to work part-time).
You can reclaim at least 92% of SMP/SPP paid to employees – this increases to 103% if you qualify as a Small Employer (if you paid less than £45,000 in Class 1 National Insurance in the previous tax year). The reclaim should be calculated by your payroll software and deducted from your PAYE/NI liability for the tax month, however if you can’t offset it in full you can ask for a repayment, but not until the start of the next tax year.
Technical Manager (and Mum-to-be)