Deciding to have a baby might have been the easy part when it comes to work because now you have to make sure all your bases are covered as you prepare for maternity leave.
The golden rule is to make sure you do everything as early as possible. You can choose to start your maternity leave any time in, or after, the 11th week before your baby is due.
However, your maternity leave will start automatically if you’re off work for any reason to do with your pregnancy from the fourth week before your baby is due.
That said, you want to be informing your employer as early as possible that you want to take maternity leave so that they can make plans and provisions for your absence. Technically, you must formally tell your employer by the end of the 15th week before your baby is due and the date you want your maternity leave to start.
This is the guaranteed minimum but of course, if your position is a specialist one, or your maternity takes place during an important time for the company then giving your employer more time enables the chances of a more satisfactory maternity replacement and a less hurried solution.
Your employer’s response
Once your employer has received your statutory notice that you want to take maternity leave, they must write to you within 28 days and tell you the date your maternity leave runs out and therefore the date when you are expected to return to work from maternity leave. This is a formality to allow for your position to become available to you.
A year away?
With the potential to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave regardless of how long you have worked for your employer, you can see why some forward planning and co-operation with your employer will benefit all.
Needless to say, if you come to a different arrangement with your employer, that is up to you. However by law you must take at least two weeks immediately after the baby is born and at least four weeks if you are a factory worker.
In between the legal requirements, however, will be a certain amount of proactive and positive discussion between yourself and your employer to maintain links with each other.
For example, when you are on maternity leave, your employer should keep you informed of issues which may affect you.
These issues may include any relevant promotion opportunities or job vacancies that arise during your maternity leave.
This is precisely the reason why discussing your maternity leave early, with reasonableness and foresight, can pay dividends in ensuring your employer is more forthcoming with such information and updates.
How you stay in contact is up to you and your employer and can be made in any way that best suits either or both of you. For example, it could be by telephone, email, letter, or by you making a visit to the workplace, amongst other methods.
The good news is that you are also allowed to work for up to ten days during your maternity leave without it affecting your agreed maternity pay. These are called ‘keeping in touch days’ and can be for catching up, attending a seminar or even training.
Once again it’s up to you and your employer if you do these ‘keeping in touch’ days – how many and when, for example. The key here is the fact that you are under no obligation to work them and your employer is under no obligation to offer them to you.