Pay, benefits and bonuses during maternity leave

If you are a pregnant woman, your employer must not give you lower pay or worse contractual terms for a reason relating to her pregnancy. If your employer does this, you will have an equal pay claim.

However, when you go on maternity leave, unless your contract provides for maternity-related pay, you do not continue to get your usual pay and any benefits with a transferable cash value (such as a car allowance).  You are still entitled to any non-cash benefits you have.

Maternity-related pay means pay other than statutory maternity pay to which a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave is entitled under her contract. Many employers, as a matter of good business practice, provide a more generous maternity pay scheme than the one the law sets as a minimum.

When you go on maternity leave, a 'maternity equality clause' is automatically read into your contract, which covers:

  • the calculation of any maternity-related pay you are entitled to under your contract
  • bonus payments during maternity leave, and
  • pay increases following maternity leave.

Unlike other types of equal pay claim, there is no need for a male comparator where your claim relates to these three things (or to other forms of pregnancy and maternity discrimination).

Any pay increase you receive or would have received had you not been on maternity leave must be taken into account in the calculation of your maternity-related pay.

For example:

Early in her maternity leave, a woman receiving maternity-related pay becomes entitled to an increase in pay (because there has been a pay rise across the organisation she works for). If her terms of employment do not already provide for the increase to be reflected in her maternity-related pay, the employer must recalculate her maternity pay to take account of the pay increase.

Your employer must also pay you any contractual bonus payment awarded to you during your maternity leave period, or that would have been awarded had you not been on maternity leave. However, when your employer works out your bonus, the actual time during which you are on maternity leave will not generally be included, except for the two or four weeks of compulsory maternity leave.

For example:

A woman goes on maternity leave three months before the end of her company's accounting year. At the end of the accounting year, while she is on maternity leave, bonuses for the whole year are awarded to staff. The woman's bonus is calculated based on the nine months of the accounting year when she was not on maternity leave plus the two week compulsory maternity leave period that applies to her because she is not a factory worker (it would be four weeks if she worked in a factory).

Your employer must pay any pay rise or bonus when they would usually be due, and not wait until you get back from your leave.

For example:

A woman goes on maternity leave on 1 June. The contractual bonus for the year ending 30 April is payable on 1 July. Her employer says they will pay the bonus to her when she is back in a few months. The law requires the employer to pay the bonus on 1 July as it would if the woman was not on maternity leave. If this does not happen, she can make a claim relying on the maternity equality clause provisions.

When you return to work and start receiving your ordinary salary again (rather than statutory maternity pay or maternity-related pay), your employer must give you any pay increases that you would have received had you not been on maternity leave. For example, if everyone in the organisation, or even just the people doing the job you return to, have had a pay rise while you have been on maternity leave, you must be paid at a rate that takes account of the pay increase, not at your previous salary.

If pay and benefits have not been paid because of your pregnancy or maternity leave but are not things you are entitled to under your contract, then your claim is one of unlawful discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity, rather than equal pay, and the first part of this guide applies instead.  

For example:

A woman who has been approved for a promotion tells her employer that she is pregnant. The employer responds that he will not now promote her because she will be away on maternity leave during a very busy period. This would be pregnancy discrimination at work but not an equal pay claim.

However, if the same woman is promoted and her increased salary takes effect after her maternity leave begins, her maternity-related pay will need to be recalculated to take account of the salary increase. When she returns to work from her maternity leave, it must be on the new salary. If this does not happen, she can make a claim relying on the maternity equality clause provisions

Maternity equality in pension schemes

An occupational pension scheme is treated as including a maternity equality clause if it does not have such a clause already. The effect of this is to make sure that if you are on maternity leave, you continue to build up the same benefits in relation to the pension you receive once you retire.

If you are concerned about whether your occupational pension scheme may be unlawfully discriminating against you as a woman on maternity leave, you should get expert advice from your trade union or another organisation.


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Last Updated: 04 Sep 2015