GP practices

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19. Maternity leave

Statutory maternity leave

All pregnant employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave around the time of birth of their child, irrespective of their length of service with the practice or business. This is made up of 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave (OML), followed by 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave (AML). The employee also has the right to return to work afterwards.

Eligibility

To be eligible for maternity leave, an employee must give notification in writing:

  • that she is pregnant
  • of her expected week of childbirth; and
  • of the date on which she intends her maternity leave to start.

If an employee has a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, she remains entitled to take statutory maternity leave. If the stillbirth occurs before 24 weeks of pregnancy, she should be allowed to take a period of sick leave or compassionate leave instead. If the baby is born alive but later dies, either the same day or afterwards, then she is still entitled to take statutory maternity leave.

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  • Notification requirements

    Notification must be provided no later than the end of the 15th week before the week that the baby is expected, unless this is not reasonably practicable, in which case the employee must provide notification as soon as it is reasonably practicable for her to do so.

    The employee can choose when to start her ordinary maternity leave, subject to two restrictions:

    • maternity leave cannot begin prior to the 11th week before the week that the baby is expected, unless the baby is born prematurely, in which case maternity leave will begin the day after the baby is born; and
    • the start of ordinary maternity leave will be triggered automatically if the employee is absent from work wholly or partly on account of a pregnancy-related reason within four weeks of the week her baby is due.

    Upon receipt of an employee’s notification that she intends to take maternity leave, the employer must respond in writing within 28 days acknowledging the employee’s intentions and informing her of the date on which her additional maternity leave will end. This will be 52 weeks after the start of the employee’s maternity leave.

  • Length of maternity leave

    Statutory maternity leave is 26 weeks’ OML followed by 26 weeks’ AML. The first two weeks immediately following the birth are compulsory, and a new mother may not choose to return to work within this two-week period. This period is extended to four weeks if the mother works in a factory.

  • SMP (statutory maternity pay)

    SMP is payable for 39 weeks. An employee is eligible to receive SMP provided that:

    • she has been employed for a minimum of 26 weeks as at the end of the 15th week before the week her baby is due (which is known as the qualifying week)
    • she is still employed during that week
    • her average weekly earnings are equal to or greater than the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.

    SMP can begin on any day of the week according to the date that the employee has notified as the start date of her maternity leave.

    SMP is payable whether or not the employee intends to return to work or actually returns to work after maternity leave.

    SMP is payable as follows.

    • For the first six weeks of maternity leave, the employee is entitled to 90 per cent of her average weekly earnings (based on the earnings during the period of eight weeks that immediately precede the 14th week before the expected week of childbirth).
    • The remaining 33 weeks are paid at a standard weekly rate set by the Government. Where the standard rate is more than 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, her entitlement will be 90% of her actual earnings, rather than the standard rate. The rate is revised each April. See the current rates.

    SMP is treated as earnings, and is therefore subject to tax and National Insurance contributions in the usual way.

  • Contractual maternity pay

    The practice may choose to offer a more generous contractual entitlement to maternity pay if they wish, as a means of recruitment and retention.

  • Rights during maternity leave

    Contractual benefits

    All employees are entitled to maintain any contractual benefits that they would usually receive/benefit from during both ordinary and additional maternity leave, with the exception of paid wages.

     

    Annual leave entitlement

    Statutory and contractual annual leave entitlement continues to accrue in the normal way during both ordinary and additional maternity leave.

     

    Keeping-in-touch (KIT) days

    An employee may work for up to 10 days under their contract of employment without bringing their maternity leave to an end or losing their entitlement to statutory maternity pay. These days are known as ‘keeping-in-touch (KIT) days’.

     

    Reasonable contact

    The GP practice/employer may make reasonable contact with an employee who is on maternity leave.

     

    Returning to work

    An employee who decides to return to work at the end of her additional maternity leave is not required to give any notice of her return date. If, however, she wishes to return to work early, including at the end of her ordinary maternity leave, she may be required to give eight weeks’ notice of her intended early return date.

     

    Failure to return to work

    If the employee does not wish to return to work at the end of her maternity leave, she is required to provide the appropriate notice period as set out in her contract of employment.

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