17 November 2018

Going back to work after maternity leave: what you should know

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Having a baby is exciting, but also something that raises many questions. How will my working life change after becoming a parent? Will I be paid on maternity leave and when do I need to go back to work?

What are my maternity-leave rights?

If you are employed, you are allowed to take up to a year of maternity leave from your employer. This is the case even if you have only worked at the company for a short time and if you work part-time.

The law says you are eligible for maternity leave if you’re classed as an employee. In practice, this usually means you work regular fixed hours for the same company. Usually, if you are a casual, agency worker or are self-employed, you don’t qualify for maternity leave. This is also the case if you have a zero-hours contract.

What does the law say about maternity leave?

Even if you are not entitled to maternity leave, you are entitled to take two weeks off work after having your baby.

What am I entitled to while on maternity leave?

Your maternity leave will last for a year unless you plan to come back earlier. It can’t last longer than that. If you want to take more time off you can add accrued holiday to extend the period.

It’s important that any correspondence with your employer is done in writing and with the correct amount of notice. If you want to change the date when you plan to return, you’ll need to give your employer eight weeks’ notice.

If you add holiday to your maternity leave, it will count as though you have come back to work on the proper day.

What pay can I receive while I am on maternity leave?

Under your contract of employment you will be entitled to (some) pay while you are on maternity leave. Even if you are not eligible for maternity leave, you may qualify for statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance.

When can I start my maternity leave?

You can start your maternity leave from 11 weeks before the date that your baby is due to be born. Tell your employer in writing when you plan to stop work and when you intend to return.

Babies don’t always come as planned; you may have some flexibility around these dates, but you must keep your employer informed.

What about flexible working?

When you do return after maternity leave, you have the right to ask your employer for flexible working. They must consider your request.

Flexible working might mean you want to change the days you work, the number of hours you work or perhaps have the option of working from home from time to time. Your employer should also give consideration to your request to switch from a shift rota to a regular work pattern.

If you wish to change your hours, you must write to your employer and request flexible work. You can do this if you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks. Your employer shouldn’t refuse unless there is a genuine business reason.

What if I decide not to go back to work after maternity leave?

If you decide not to go back to your job, you will need to give your employer several weeks’ notice, depending on the terms and conditions of your work contract.

If it is not spelled out in your working terms and conditions, then a week’s notice is required. Check the document you signed when you first started work; it should give all the details. If not, speak to your human resources department.

Is it worth going back after maternity leave?

There’s no reason why you can’t go back to the same job if you’ve enjoyed working in that role.

All employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, no matter how long they have been in the job. The first 26 weeks are Ordinary Maternity Leave, and if you wish to take a longer time off you can ask for Additional Maternity Leave.

In law, you are entitled to return to the same job after maternity leave if you’ve been away for 26 weeks or less.

There is legal protection for your pay and conditions, so you should be returning to the same role.

If you also take off Additional Maternity Leave your employer is obliged to allow you to return to your old job unless they can show that it is not possible for you to do so. In this case, you would be entitled to be offered a suitable alternative job with similar terms and conditions. Your employer is not allowed to give your job to the person who covered for you during your maternity leave.

What about the anxiety of returning to work after maternity leave?

It’s natural to feel some apprehension about how you are going to cope with sleep deprivation, but you may be able to negotiate a phased return. Before you go back, plan how you will manage the drop-offs and nursery care for your baby.

You may be worried about becoming a working mother. Most women experience some lack of confidence and worry in the last few weeks of maternity leave. The return to work can be overwhelming, but most women find they settle back into a routine after a couple of months.

Leaving your baby may seem strange at first, but you can focus on the positives – finding a fulfilling role that brings in much-needed income, being part of a team, having some adult conversation and the opportunity to progress in your career.