Going back to work after maternity or paternity leave


Man holding yawning babyJust as you and your partner were covered by statutory rights if you were working before your baby was born, after you've become a working parent you're also entitled to certain rights. Sadly, a decent night's sleep isn't one of them.

Changes to paternity leave | Going back after maternity leave | Breastfeeding at work | Parental leave

Changes to paternity leave

Paternity rules that came into effect in April 2011 mean you and your partner are legally entitled to share time off during your baby's first year. In addition to your partner's two weeks of Ordinary Paternity Leave, he can now take up to 26 weeks (ie six months) of additional paternity leave (APL).

The APL can only be taken once you have returned to work from statutory maternity leave (or ended your entitlement) and a minimum of 20 weeks after the birth. It must also be taken within the first year of your child's life.

APL is paid at the same rate as Statutory Maternity Pay and can be paid for a maximum of 19 weeks depending on how much maternity leave and pay you have taken.

The government also plans to consult on a new, properly flexible system of shared parental leave, with the aim of introducing it in 2015. (Plus, there's talk of getting really modern, and extending it to grandparents or family friends.)  


Going back after maternity leave

Your employer should have written to tell you what day you're due back at work - if this hasn't happened, request it. If you take all your maternity leave, you'll be due back on the day after the end of 52 weeks.

If you want to take a shorter period of maternity leave than this, you need to write to inform your employer in writing at least eight weeks before you intend to go back.

When you return to work after Ordinary Maternity Leave (ie six months), you have the right to return to your old job on your previous terms and conditions.

But if you take some Additional Maternity Leave (ie all or part of the next six months) you have the right to return to your old job unless it's 'not reasonably practicable', in which case your employer must offer you a suitable alternative.

If you decide not to go back to work, you should give in your notice in the normal way, just as you would if you were still at work. Wait until towards the end of your maternity leave to do this, so you keep your right to accrued holiday time.

Parental rights if you adopt

Statutory Adoption Leave and pay depends on your length of continuous service with your employer (at least 26 weeks). 

If you qualify, you're eligible to take 52 weeks of Statutory Adoption Leave, which can begin up to 14 days before your adopted child starts to live with you.

There are slight variations in the rules depending on whether you're adopting a child within or from overseas. 
Check Directgov for more details about your adoption leave rights and the amount of benefit you'll get.

You should give your employer notice within seven days of being told you've been matched with a child, providing them with a copy of the matching certificate from the adoption agency.

Your employer may have a more generous adoption leave and pay scheme than the statutory scheme - check with your HR department or staff handbook.

You won't qualify for statutory leave if you're adopting a stepchild, having a child through surrogacy or arranging for a private adoption.

Breastfeeding once you're back at work

Going back to work doesn't mean you have to give up breastfeeding.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley recently reiterated the government's support to working mothers who breastfeed, saying companies should help them by providing them with facilities (a quiet room in which to express, and a fridge in which to store expressed breastmilk).

Bosses are also urged to be flexible about when mothers take breaks.

You must write to your HR department (or manager if your employer doesn't have an HR department) beforehand if you're intending to continue breastfeeding at work. Employers are required by law to provide suitable facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that employers provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk. (NB: this does not mean the toilets.)

As for the mechanics of expressing breastmilk at work, get on the Mumsnet Talk board for advice about different breastpumps and what gear you'll need to have at work.

"I would definitely recommend getting a double electric pump and a hands-free pumping kit. Expressing first thing in the morning whilst feeding baby on the other side can be a great way to get a good amount of milk in one go but you'll definitely need to pump more than the once to get enough for a day's feeds." TruthSweet

"I'd assumed I'd have to stop breastfeeding when I went back to work when DD was six months, but a fellow mum told me about my work's BF-friendly policy (all the practical details, like where to express) and I ended up BF for another year. Together, we set up a 'mums group' at work to give advice to others going on maternity leave (about being working parents, not just BF)." TheOldestCat

The NHS has advice about breastfeeding and work, you can download a pdf here. And the HSE also has useful advice on its website. Alternatively, you can speak to an HSE adviser on 0845 345 0055.

Parental leave

If your child is under five (or under 18, if your child has disabilities), you may be eligible statutory parental leave. You'll need to have worked for your employer continuously for at least one year to qualify. Self-employed or agency workers don't qualify. 

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Legal matters
Employment issues

If you do qualify, you can take up to 13 weeks' parental leave for each of your children up to their fifth birthday (18 weeks if your child is disabled).

It's an individual right (ie you can't transfer parental leave between parents) and it's unpaid usually, although if you're on a low income you might get Income Support. Directgov has all the details.


Last updated: 17-Apr-2014 at 11:27 AM