Going back to work after maternity or paternity leave

If you're a working parent, you have some employment rights that it's worth being aware of (sadly, a decent night's sleep isn't one of them)

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New: shared parental leave

If you gave birth after April 2015, you and your partner are now legally entitled to share time off to care for your baby during the first year. 

After the initial two weeks of statutory maternity leave and allowance for the mother, and paid paternity leave for the father, parents can now share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them.

You can choose to take time off simultaneously, if you wish, or to split the time between you in any proportion.  Once you've decided how to divide the leave, you'll need to agree it with your respective employers in advance.

This also applies to couples adopting children after April 2015, and replaces Additional Paternity Leave, which was previously available to fathers, or the mother's or adopter's partner.




Going back after maternity leave

Once you have told your employer that you are pregnant and given them notice of the date you intend to start your maternity leave, a return date should be set. You can specify a date yourself, or calculate the date at the end of your full entitlement. This date should then be put in writing within 28 days. If you wish to change the date of your return at any point, you will need to give your employer at least eight weeks' notice.

When you return to work, you have the right to return to your old job on your previous terms and conditions, 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.

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 for 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. 

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 (i.e. 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.


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Last updated: about 2 years ago