An employee entitled to maternity leave must take at least two weeks compulsory maternity leave after the baby is born. You must not ask a woman to work, or allow her to do so, in this period. She is entitled to return any time after that, provided she gives you appropriate notice, which is eight weeks. A factory worker is prohibited from working for four weeks after birth.
Employees are legally entitled to take up to 52 weeks maternity leave. You must assume that a woman on maternity leave will return at the end of the 52 weeks unless she gives eight weeks’ notice to return earlier. The same applies to adoption leave.
If your employee intends to take the full 52 weeks off then she does not have to tell you when she is planning on returning to work.
If she wants to return earlier than 52 weeks she must give you eight weeks’ notice.
You can ask an employee when she plans to return from maternity leave, but you should not:
- Put pressure on her to provide information about when she will return to work before she is obliged to do so.
- Tell her she will be disadvantaged if she does not return to work early, for example by saying that she will miss training or promotion opportunities.
- Treat her unfavourably if she does not return to work earlier than she is obliged to do.
- Treat her unfavourably if she changes her mind about when she will return to work.
No, you cannot postpone an employee’s return to work unless:
- She wants to postpone it and you agree, whether paid or unpaid.
- She changes the return date and has not given you the full eight weeks’ notice, in which case you can delay her return but only up to the end of the eight weeks.
You must not disadvantage an employee for:
- Taking longer maternity leave than you would like her to take.
- Changing her mind about when she wants to return.
- Not providing information about when she will return at a time when she is not obliged to give such information.
It would be good practice to discuss with your employee when she intends to return to work but you must not put pressure on her to return early or make a decision before she is ready or has to do so. The end date will be 52 weeks after the start of her maternity leave unless she wants to return earlier. If your employee is on maternity leave and decides to return before that date, she must give you eight weeks’ notice see: https://www.gov.uk/employers-maternity-pay-leave.
You can discuss an employee’s intentions about her return to work, but you should not make an assumption that she will want to change her hours or working pattern. You should not, for example, suggest that if she wants to reduce her hours she will have to move to another job, or disadvantage her in any other way.
Yes, provided she gives you eight weeks’ notice.
If an employee returns to work during or at the end of 26 weeks (ordinary maternity leave) she is entitled to return to exactly the same job she was doing before she went on maternity leave.
If an employee returns during (or at the end of) more than 26 weeks (additional maternity leave) she should return to the same job unless it is not reasonably practicable, in which case you must give her a suitable alternative job.
A suitable alternative job must be:
Suitable and appropriate for the employee, for example, it should not be at a different location, which is difficult for her to travel to.
On terms and conditions of employment which are ‘no less favourable’ than the employee’s previous job.
It is for you to show that it is not practicable for her to return to the same job. Different provisions apply in redundancy situations.
Can an employee who is covering maternity leave remain in the job after the employee returns from maternity leave?
No. You must not move an employee returning from maternity role to another job because you prefer the person you have employed to cover her role during her maternity leave. This would be maternity discrimination.
What if the business is reorganised while an employee is on maternity leave? Does this make a difference to the job an employee is entitled to return to?
It depends whether the employee is returning to work after ordinary maternity leave ( up to 26 weeks) or additional maternity leave (more than 26 weeks). If she is returning after ordinary maternity leave ( up to 26 weeks) she has to be allowed to return to the same job. If she is returning after additional maternity leave (more than 26 weeks) then the changes in the business may mean it is not reasonably practicable for her to return to the same job. You are then allowed to offer her a suitable alternative job instead. The position is different if the changes mean the employee’s job is redundant
I have re-allocated some of an employee’s responsibilities during her maternity leave. Must I give these back to her when she returns?
Yes, if her responsibilities were given to other employees while she was on maternity leave, she should be given these back on her return. If her job on return is less favourable, in terms of responsibilities, and the reason is her absence on maternity leave, this would be maternity discrimination.
Women are likely to need support when they return from maternity leave because of changes in the workplace, such as new staff, different procedures and other developments. It is advisable to ensure:
- A woman returner is greeted and welcomed on her return.
- She is able to return to her old desk, if possible.
- She is updated on developments,
- She is introduced to any new staff.
- Her work is discussed, so that she knows what she has to do.
- Any targets are appropriate, for example if she has fewer clients because of her absence on maternity leave.
- That appropriate health and safety adjustments are made, for example if she is breastfeeding and needs breaks.
I cannot offer the employee the same job on her return because the work of the business has changed. What should I do?
You should explain how and why the work has changed, for example because of business developments, and discuss what work the employee will be doing in the future.
Does adding parental or another type of leave to the end of my ordinary maternity leave affect an employee’s right to return to the same job or a suitable alternative?
This will depend on what kind of leave they take and how much leave they take in total. For example, if they return to work after adding four weeks parental leave or less at the end of their ordinary maternity leave they will still be entitled to return to the same job. However, if they return to work after adding more than four weeks of parental leave at the end of their ordinary maternity leave they are treated in the same way as if they returned from additional maternity leave. This means that if you can show that it is not reasonably practicable to give them the same job, they must be offered a suitable alternative. Taking other kinds of statutory family leave at the end of ordinary maternity leave can affect an employee’s right to return to the same job. You should take advice if you have an employee in this situation and you need to know what your obligations are.
Last updated: 13 May 2016