The perfect job: but what about maternity leave?


The search is over. 

Your recruitment agency has helped you to land your dream job, and after a positive probation period, you’re beginning to settle into a role that feels right for you. Now, you’re faced with the daunting prospect of informing your boss that you are expecting a baby soon after starting your new job.

Don’t panic - pregnancy and parenthood are facts of business life, and it’s likely that you aren’t the first employee at your company to be in this situation. Regardless of how long you have been in the role, your contracted hours or the salary you’re paid, you are entitled to take maternity leave, and your employer should automatically assume that you will be returning to the role once this period is over unless otherwise specified.

Nevertheless, delivering this kind of news can be intimidating for a new recruit, and it’s only natural to feel anxious. Despite the progress that has been made, maternity discrimination is still rife in the workplace due to antiquated attitudes and outdated opinions from times gone by.

According to PwC, one in four (23%) women believe there is still a negative bias from employers towards women with young children returning to work. If that wasn’t bad enough, findings from a recent survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed six in 10 private sector employers wrongly believe women should have to disclose whether or not they are pregnant during the recruitment process. It’s no wonder that women feel their jobs are jeopardised by motherhood.

Rest assured that what your boss thinks doesn’t matter, as long as what they do is not within breach of your statutory rights. Now, your boss may not hold false beliefs when it comes to maternity leave, and many will be perfectly understanding and supportive. But, in any case, it’s essential to understand your rights and responsibilities in this situation before telling your employer.

Maternity leave: know your rights

Provided that you have an employment contract and have given the correct notice, you are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave. The first 26 weeks is known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. If the first 26 weeks or less are taken, you are legally entitled to return to the exact same job.

If you do take the full 52 weeks, you are similarly entitled to come back to your role as planned unless a genuine operational change will make this impossible. This is known as the “reasonably practicable” test: reasons that pass this test include redundancy due to a restructure, or if the returning employee wanted to go part-time following maternity leave. In this case, the employer must offer their employee a job within the company that will be suitable for her when she returns.

Legally, you must inform your employer of your pregnancy and intention to take maternity leave at least 15 weeks before your baby is due, regardless of where you work. However, it’s in your best interests to tell them sooner rather than later. Once your employer knows you are pregnant, you are automatically protected against unfavourable treatment due to pregnancy-related discrimination. In the time leading up to your maternity leave, your employer is required by law to record any pregnancy-related absence separately so that it cannot be used against you in any decisions surrounding redundancy, dismissal or disciplinary.

After informing your employer of your pregnancy, it’s a good idea to agree on dates for regular catch-ups, performance reviews and meetings to arrange a back to work plan at the end of the year.