Maternity leave: Your questions answered

When it comes to deciding how much time to take off with your new baby, there are lots of things to consider. We answer your top concerns...

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It’s important you know your rights because legislation changes all the time. From your first baby to your second, what you’re entitled to can be very different. So whether you’re pregnant, or already on maternity leave, here’s an update of all the things you need to consider before setting the date for the big return:

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How much maternity pay am I entitled to?

Having a baby stretches the budget to breaking point. As well as all the baby necessities to buy and an extra mouth to feed, maternity pay generally means a reduced income. While all women are entitled to take 52 weeks off work, statutory maternity pay of £128.73 a week is only paid for the first 39 weeks. If you work for a company that gives you enhanced maternity pay (three months on full pay, three months on half pay, for instance), you don’t get statutory maternity pay on top, but you do get it once your enhanced deal ends.

Can my partner take time off, too?

All men in employment when their partner gets pregnant are entitled to two weeks paternity leave when their baby arrives. But be warned – very few employers offer paid leave, meaning that a whopping 40% of new dads don’t take it. However, new Additional Paternity Leave, means that all dads of babies born on or after 3 April, 2011, can take up to 26 weeks off to look after their baby, as long as the baby is over five months old and the mother has returned to work. He will be entitled to £128.73 a week.

Will taking the full year off affect my job?

Most women, unless they’re the main breadwinner, now take nine months off, according to workingfamilies.org.uk. In terms of your employer maintain a good relationship. Be as open as you can about your intentions and stay in contact. This will remind your employer of where you are and enable them to keep you updated on developments. Use your Keeping In Touch (KIT) days – you’re entitled to work for your employer for up to 10 days during maternity leave without losing your statutory maternity pay. But do check how much you will be paid. By law, only minimum wage applies.

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Can I return part time?

You have the right to request flexible working and your employer has to consider it. Working Families says that between 60-70% of requests are granted. There are a number of ways you can strengthen your case:
1. Plan early – the process can take up to three months. For guidance on how to do this, visit direct.gov.uk.
2. Make childcare arrangements to cover both a positive and negative outcome, just in case.
3. Be realistic about what you can do. Many mums think they can work from home to avoid childcare costs, but keeping one eye on your baby and the other on work means everyone gets short-changed.
4. Try to pre-empt your employer’s concerns with regards to your proposal and present solutions.

Make your return to work easier!

  • Book a meeting with your employer before your return, so you can be briefed on any work-related changes.
  • Organise childcare arrangements early, and settle your child in a few weeks before you return to work to make sure you are both happy.
  • Ask for any special arrangements in advance. For instance, if you’re still breastfeeding, your employer has to provide you with a private place to express milk and a safe place to store it.

    For advice on your rights at work, contact the Working Families Legal Helpline, tel: 0800 013 0313. Or visit Workingfamilies.org.uk

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