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Maternity Leave in the UK: A Guide for Overseas Employers

Employees that are expecting a new child will want to take time away from work, and most countries provide some type of maternity leave for mothers and paternity leave for fathers.  The statutory leave entitlements and payment will vary between countries, and employers are always free to offer more leave than legally required.

The UK has a maternity leave entitlement that is very supportive of employees who are new mothers, and their compensation is paid by the government while on leave.  This guide will outline the amount of leave, eligibility and how payment is structured.

What are the maternity benefits in the UK?

New mothers in the UK receive statutory maternity leave of up to 52 weeks.  The first 26 weeks is ‘ordinary’ maternity leave and the second 26 weeks is ‘additional’ leave.  Leave can begin 11 weeks before the expected birth, and employees are required to take at least two weeks off after birth.

Employees also receive 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay (SMP), with a guaranteed right to return to work after the leave ends.

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Who is eligible for maternity leave in the UK?

The 52 weeks of maternity leave is available no matter how long the employee has worked for their employer.

To qualify for SMP the employee must earn at least GBP 120 per week, and have worked for their employer continuously for 26 weeks prior to the ‘qualifying week’.  The qualifying week is the 15th week prior to the expected birth, so that means 41 weeks of employment prior to birth.

Client Case: Who sets the statutory rate for UK maternity leave?

Context:  A client of ours with employees in the UK wanted to know if the pay rate for maternity leave is set by the government or the employer.

Solution: We informed the client that the statutory rate is set by the UK government each year. For the first 6 weeks, mothers are paid 90% of their average earnings and the remaining 33 weeks are at a rate set by the government each year (GBP 151.97 in 2021).  This amount is likely much less than their full compensation, which may affect the employee’s decision on how much leave to take.

Do you need more information about the UK?

If you are new to hiring in the UK, you may have more questions such as:

Is there paternity leave for fathers in the UK as well?

Does the government pay the employee directly, or reimburse the employer for SMP?

How much notice of an expected birth date does an employee have to give the employer?

Our clients face issues like this frequently when trying to comply with foreign labor laws and entitlements, and we assist them with interpreting and applying the rules.  We make international employment simple.

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The information in this article is subject to changes in local legislation.

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