Pregnancy and parental rights at work

This short guide talks about being pregnant at work and your rights, including maternity leave and pay, and paternity leave. It also covers shared parental leave which is different to parental leave. It is important to know your pregnancy rights at work and your partner's rights so you can plan well for your new family.

What to do at work when you find out you are pregnant

Telling your employer

You do not have to tell your employer that you are pregnant as soon as you know, but if you don’t do so you may not be entitled to the employment protection that pregnant workers have when you need it. This is because employment protection relies on the employer actually knowing about the pregnancy. It is therefore sensible to let your employer know that you are pregnant. It would also be a good idea to tell them in writing. 

You do need to tell your employer that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the baby is due. You can ask your doctor or midwife for a form called a MAT B1.  This form will confirm that you are pregnant and the date your baby is due, which is information you need to give your employer to get statutory maternity pay.    

You get certain benefits at work if your employer knows you are pregnant (see Pregnancy Perks below) - so in some ways the earlier you break the news the better.

Pregnancy and job interviews

You don't have to tell a possible new employer that you're pregnant. The fact that you are pregnant, or are planning to have children should have nothing to do with whether you get the job. If they ask you questions about pregnancy or children during an interview it  may be unlawful sex or pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Perks

  • You should be given time off on full pay for medical appointments relating to ante-natal care.
  • Your employer should make sure that you are working in conditions which are safe and healthy for pregnant women or recent mothers, this includes things like not having to stand for long periods and not having to lift heavy objects.
  • If your employer announces redundancies while you are on maternity leave then you must be put at the head of the queue for any suitable alternative work which is available with your employer. They must also make adjustments to the way they decide who to select for redundancy to counter any disadvantage you are under being on maternity leave during a redundancy procedure.
  • If you are treated badly or not given opportunities at work because you are pregnant or you are a new mother your employer is breaking the law. See our guide on discrimination at work.
  • You are entitled to up to a year off work after giving birth, this is called maternity leave. We talk more about this in the next section.

Maternity leave

Taking Maternity leave

You are entitled to 52 weeks (a year) off work when you have a baby. It doesn't matter how long you have worked for your employer or how many hours you work but you will need to inform your employer that you intend to take the leave. 

There are two periods of maternity leave - the first 26 weeks is known as Ordinary Maternity Leave or OML. The second period is known as Additional Maternity Leave or AML.

You can decide to start maternity leave any time from the 11th week before your baby is due. It's essential to give proper notice to your employer - for more information on how to do this go to GOV.UK - maternity leave. If you don't give proper notice of your pregnancy you may miss out on certain benefits.

You don't have to take your full maternity leave if you don't want to but you have to take at least 2 weeks leave immediately after giving birth or at least 4 weeks if you work in a factory.

Pay when you are on maternity leave

There are three possible ways of getting paid during maternity leave.

  • Your employment contract might say that your employer will pay, but it might not be as much as you usually get in your pay packet.
  • If not you could be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, this is a government benefit paid through your employer. You have to have been working for your employer for at least a week before you got pregnant and be earning a certain amount. It is paid for a maximum of 39 weeks.
  • If you don't qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, you might be entitled to another type of government benefit called Maternity Allowance. Again it is paid for a maximum of 39 weeks.

To check what you are entitled to you can use the GOV.UK maternity and paternity leave and pay checker tool.

Going back to work after having a baby

You usually have an automatic right to return to work after your maternity leave.

You have to give your employer a month's notice if you want to come back before your Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) finishes - that is to say, before you have had 26 weeks leave. If your employer refuses to have you back you could make a claim for unfair dismissal or sex discrimination. You will need to get advice on your particular situation. The Maternity Action helpline can help with this.

Your rights on return are slightly different depending on how long you have been on maternity leave. If you return after 26 weeks (your Ordinary Maternity Leave) you are entitled to return to the same job. If you return after 52 weeks (your Additional Maternity Leave) you will be entitled to return to work and the same job unless that is not reasonably practicable.

Paternity leave

Paternity leave is time off work for employees to enable them to spend time with a new child and support their partner.

You need to either be the child’s father, or married to or in a civil partnership with the mother or birth parent - this includes same sex partners.

If your partner is having a baby you may be entitled to either one or two weeks’ leave after the birth of your child. This is called paternity leave. You would need to be employed for 26 weeks by the qualifying week. The 'qualifying week' is the 15th week before the baby is due. 

There is no automatic right to paternity pay. Your employment contract might give you a right to pay during paternity leave, if not you might be entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay.

For more information about paternity pay and leave including if you are adopting a child or having a child through surrogacy go to Acas - Paternity leave.

To check what you are entitled to you can use the GOV.UK maternity and paternity leave and pay checker tool.

Shared parental leave

This is leave from work to care for a new child that is more flexible for the parents (or carers) than maternity and paternity leave (and pay).

There are different ways of taking this leave. Be aware that there is no extra leave given under the law through shared parental leave. Instead, the mother can choose to share some of her maternity leave entitlement with the other parent. This means the parental leave for fathers (or other parents) can be much longer than under paternity leave but it will shorten the leave that the mother is entitled to. Some people are calling this right ‘maternity leave for men’.

You both need to be employees to take shared parental leave. The leave must be taken in the child’s first year. You can take time off together or separately.

To read more about shared parental leave and get help working out if it is right for your situation go to Maternity Action - shared parental leave and pay. There is also useful information on this topic on GOV.UK - shared parental leave.

Adoption leave and pay

If you and your partner are adopting a child you have rights to time off work with your new child.

You need to be an employee and to be adopting a child through an adoption agency. You can decide with your partner who will take adoption leave and who will take paternity leave (this includes same sex partners and civil partners) or you can look into shared parental leave and whether that is right for you. To understand more about adoption leave and pay you can look at Maternity Action - adoption leave.

Other time off

Unpaid parental Leave

Parental leave not the same as shared parental leave. It is the right for parents to take time off to spend time with their children. This is a separate right to rights parents have at the time of the birth of their child.

You are entitled to parental leave if you are a parent and you have been working for the same employer for a year or more. You get this right as well as the right to maternity or paternity leave. For example, you might use parental leave to spend more time with your child during their early years, or to make sure your child settles into nursery or infant school.

You are entitled to 18 weeks’ parental leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday but you can only take up to 4 weeks in a year for each child (unless your employer agrees differently).

Be aware that your employer does not have to pay you while you take parental leave, unless it says they will in your contract.

You can read more about unpaid parental leave by going to GOV.UK - unpaid parental leave.

August 2023

More help on pregnancy and parental rights at work

For more help see Parental and carers’ rights. We have hand-picked the best accurate information available about your parental rights at work in England and Wales available anywhere on the web, so that you don't have to.

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales. 

The law is complicated. We recommend you try to get advice from the sources we have suggested if at all possible.

This guide was written by Law for Life thanks to funding from the Bar Standards Board.

Law for Life would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide and Rebecca Thomas from 42BR Barristers who peer reviewed the guide.

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