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Maternity Leave: A Mothers rights

As a woman, returning to work after you’ve been living in the bubble of a new-born can be daunting. You will be asked when you will return to work before you go on maternity leave and at this point, your employer should give you a date to return to work. They will assume you’ll be away for a year unless you advise them you wish to return to work earlier.

You are perfectly entitled to change your mind about when you return to work. Just write to your employer with your new dates:

  • to end your leave sooner, you must tell your employer at least 8 weeks before your new end date
  • to end your leave later, you must tell your employer at least 8 weeks before your old end date

You’re entitled to return to the same job after maternity leave with the same pay and conditions if you’ve been away 26 weeks or less. It’s unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination if your employer says you can’t return to the same job.

If you’ve been on maternity leave for more than 26 weeks then it’s unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination if your employer doesn’t let you return to work after maternity leave, or if they offer you a different job without a strong reason. They can’t offer you a different job if:

  • your job still exists – e.g if they’ve given it to someone else
  • your job would still exist if you hadn’t gone on maternity leave
  • the new job isn’t something you could do
  • the new job has worse conditions or pay than yours did – e.g if you used to work part-time, and the new job would be full-time only

It is very common for woman to ask to return to work part time or work flexibly after taking maternity leave and a refusal to allow this request can amount to indirect sex discrimination if it cannot be justified. Employers must consider such a request very carefully and thoroughly including considering alternative ways in which the employee may be able to work flexibly if her particular request cannot be met. If employers cannot accommodate any request, then they must be able to justify their decision on genuine and sound business grounds.

Your employer should:

  • arrange a meeting to discuss your request
  • give you a decision within 3 months
  • give you their answer in writing, including explaining their reasons if they refuse

If you decide not to go back to your job, your contract will tell you how much notice you need to give your employer. If there’s nothing in your contract, you need to give at least a week’s notice.  

If you get contractual maternity pay you might only keep your full amount if you return to work. You won’t need to pay back statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance, even if you don’t return to work. 

Returning to work after a baby always leaves mothers wracked with guilt and questioning if they have made the right choice for themselves and their baby. Whatever you decide, having an understanding employer will make a big difference.

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