Working parents

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Returning to work

If you want to return to work before your expected return date you need to give your employer 28 days’ notice.

You are not required to notify your employer where you intend to return to work at the end of the full maternity leave period.

You have a right to return to your job under your original contract and on no less favourable terms and conditions than when you went on your leave.


  • Changing your hours

    There is no legal right for an employee to return to work on reduced hours. However, under the NHS Scheme the NHS employer has a duty to facilitate this wherever possible, with the employee returning to work on different hours in the same job.

    If this is not possible the employer must provide written, objectively justifiable, reasons for this. The employee will then either return to their original contract or to a post in the same grade with work of a similar nature and status to that which was held prior to their maternity absence.

    If you plan to reduce your hours, you may need to renegotiate your job plan and consider the impact on your on-call availability.

    Read more about job planning and use our resources 


    What about flexible working?

    There is no legal right for an employee returning from maternity leave to change her hours or working conditions unless this is provided for in the contract of employment.

    However, there is a right to request flexible working and employers must give such a request serious consideration, and only reject it if there is a good business reason to do so.

    To qualify for this right the employee must have children aged 16 or under (or disabled children under the age of 18) and must have worked for that employer for 26 weeks continuously at the date of the application and have not made such a request in the previous 12 months.

    The request needs to be made formally - in writing and must contain a statement that it is an application for flexible working under the flexible working provisions in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

    Support from the BMA

    We suggest you seek advice from the BMA to help ensure that your application contains all of the relevant information required by the Act and that it complies with the criteria. You may be further advised to seek their own legal advice where it is felt appropriate - call an adviser on 0300 123 1233.

    If the request is refused the employer must give objectively justifiable reasons. The employee should be able to appeal a decision and if they do, the employer should convene an appeal hearing. If following a subsequent hearing the employee believes that the correct procedure has not been followed, or that the employer has made a decision based on incorrect facts, the employee could consider making a claim to an employment tribunal or in some cases a sex discrimination claim might be brought.

    We suggest you seek advice from the BMA on your specific circumstances - we may further advise you to seek your own legal advice where it is felt appropriate.

    If flexible hours are agreed on a temporary basis there will still be a right to return to the original contract at the end of the agreed period.

    More information

    Read our guide to flexible training

    Hear about real-life experiences of working flexibly

  • Not planning to come back to work?

    Where a doctor has notified her employer that she does not wish to return to work after her maternity leave she will be subject to the statutory provisions (SMP and MA).  

    If an employee has notified her employer that she intends to return to work for the same or a different NHS employer and then does not do so within 15 months of the beginning of her maternity leave, she will be liable to repay the whole of her maternity pay, less any SMP or MA paid.

    An employer has the discretion to waive their rights to recovery where they believe that to do so would cause undue hardship or distress.


    What happens if I am on a fixed term or training contract?

    Where an employee has a fixed term or training contract which expires after the 11th week before the expected week of confinement, and who satisfies the conditions of the NHS Scheme they shall have their contract extended to allow them to receive the 52 weeks which includes paid contractual and statutory maternity pay and the remaining 13 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

    Absence on maternity leave (paid and unpaid) up to 52 weeks before a further NHS appointment shall not constitute a break in service. However, it would not count as service towards a further period of maternity leave.

    If there is no right to return to be exercised because the contract would have ended if pregnancy and childbirth had not occurred, the repayment provisions will not apply.

    Employees on fixed term contracts who do not have 12 months' continuous service within the NHS may still be entitled to the statutory provisions.