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Ask the employment law expert

Q: “I’m about to go on maternity leave and I don’t know what arrangements I’ll need when I come back to work. What should I do before I go, to make sure I’m covered in case anything goes wrong on my return?”

A: It’s a great idea to keep your options open at this stage. And it most cases, it should be relatively straightforward to return to your job and apply for flexible working once you decide what you’d like to do. If you’re about to go on maternity leave, you’ve probably already put a lot in place, but here’s a quick check-list.

You need to tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the week in which your baby is due that:

  • You are pregnant
  • When your baby is due
  • The date you would like your maternity leave to start and end
  • If you want Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), your employer might ask for proof of pregnancy, this can be a letter from your GP or midwife or the MATB1 certificate that you’re be given at your antenatal appointment.

Once you’ve done this (and it’s best to do it in writing) your employer should get back to you within 28 days to confirm the start and end date of your maternity leave, says employment solicitor Tom Moyes.  “If they don’t tell you this, you may be able to return early without notice or avoid the detriment tied with not arriving back in time,” he adds.

Returning to work

Don’t worry if you want to change the dates of your maternity leave and either extend or shorten it. You can write to your employer with the new dates.

  • To return to work earlier, tell your employer at least eight weeks before your new end date.
  • To extend your maternity leave, tell your employer at least eight weeks before your old end date

Flexible working

To fit work around family life, you may want more flexible working patterns. Legally, employees have a right to make an application for flexible working as long as:

  • they have worked as an employee continuously for twenty-six weeks
  • they have not previously made a request in the past 12 months.

The employer must then deal with the request in a considerate way and must notify the employee of their decision within the decision period (which is normally three months). “They can only refuse the application if there are particular grounds which apply. An example of this would be the employer not being able to employ additional staff,” says Moyes.

Maternity discrimination

Remember, you have a legal right to return to your job (or to be offered a different job with the same employer, if your employer has a strong reason for this) after maternity leave. If you do run into difficulties, you may have an unfair dismissal or maternity discrimination case. To help you resolve it, seek advice from a qualified employment solicitor.




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