Returning to work and your rights as a working parent

Guidance for doctors on returning to work, changing hours, flexible working, breastfeeding, parental leave, and what to do if you’re not planning to work. You can also read real-life stories from working medical parents.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Wednesday 1 May 2024
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Returning to work

Providing notice

You are not required to notify your employer where you intend to return to work at the end of the full 52-week maternity leave period.

If you are covered by the NHS Scheme and you want to return to work before your expected return date you need to give your employer at least 28 days notice.

Otherwise the statutory requirement is for 8 weeks notice of an early return to be given.

The right to return

The NHS Scheme provides that you have the right to return to the same job under your original contract on terms and conditions that are no less favourable.

For those outside the NHS Scheme, the statutory right to return is still to the same job. However, if you have been on leave for more than six months and it is not reasonably practicable, you have the right to return to a similar job on terms and conditions which are as good.


Keeping in touch days

KIT days allow employees to work up to 10 keeping in touch days during their maternity or adoption leave without bringing the leave period to an end.

For doctors, they can be a positive way to keep up-to-date with developments in their specialty, department or with their employer while they are away.

The NHS Scheme states that to facilitate the process of keeping in touch ‘it is important that the employer and employee have early discussion to plan and make arrangements for keeping in touch (KIT) days before the employee’s maternity leave takes place’.

For doctors not covered by the NHS Scheme, they will be covered by whatever contractual maternity leave scheme exists within their employment.

Keeping in touch days are voluntary. Both employee and employer need to agree to them. You cannot be forced to work a KIT day and you must not be treated unfairly for refusing.

If you have arranged to work a KIT/SPLIT day but you are unable to do so because of sickness or childcare difficulties your employer should not penalise you.

What type of work can be done on KIT days?

KIT days can cover any work activities. They can be used to attend a conference or team meeting, or to participate in training or development activities. The type of work you will do on a KIT day should be mutually agreed with your employer before you go into work.

When can KIT days be worked?

An employee cannot work during the two weeks of compulsory maternity leave immediately after childbirth. KIT days can be worked any time after this, up to the end of the maternity/adoption leave period. Any KIT days worked do not extend the maternity/adoption leave period.

KIT days can be consecutive or non-consecutive.

Any work done, even if it is just a few hours, will count as one whole KIT day.

How much will I get paid for KIT days?

There is nothing in legislation which sets out how KIT days should be paid. It is to be agreed between the employer and employee.

The NHS Scheme provides for employees to be paid at their basic daily rate for the hours worked less appropriate maternity leave payment for KIT days worked. It is advisable to agree with your employer in advance in writing how much you will be paid for working a KIT day to avoid any confusion.

In recent changes to NHS Terms and Conditions that apply to junior doctors in England, it was clarified that if a KIT day is worked during a period of maternity leave that is fully paid, the employee will be given an additional day off in lieu, and if they work during a period of maternity leave when half pay applies, they will be given an additional half day off in lieu.

What if I’m breastfeeding when I’m asked to work a KIT day?

If an employee is breastfeeding, the employer must carry out a risk assessment and ensure facilities are provided in line with the standard health and safety provisions that govern pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at work.

More information about breastfeeding

What about help with childcare so I can work a KIT day?

Under the NHS scheme, employers are encouraged to consider the scope for reimbursement of reasonable childcare costs or the provision of childcare facilities to enable employees to take up the opportunity to work KIT days, however this is not mandatory.

Shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days

Couples who have taken SPL (shared parental leave) are also entitled to work, without bringing their leave to an end. Each parent taking SPL can work up to 20 ‘shared parental leave in touch’ (or SPLIT) days while on SPL without their statutory leave or pay being affected.

These days are in addition to the 10 KIT days available during the maternity or adoption leave period. For example, if a mother or adopter, formally ends her maternity leave and goes onto shared parental leave, she is entitled to up to 20 further days. Her partner is also entitled to 20 SPLIT days during any SPL that they take.

The principles outlined above for payment of KIT days should apply.

Many employers have additional policies setting out the arrangements for employees taking KIT or SPLIT days. Your employer’s HR department will have the details of this.

For more information on SPLIT days see ‘What is shared parental leave?’

Where an employee does not satisfy the qualifying conditions for the NHS Scheme she may be entitled to statutory maternity pay or the maternity allowance (see Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance ).

All employees have a right to take 52 weeks of maternity leave whether they return to NHS employment or not.

What should my employer be doing to ensure the rules are followed?

Following the changes to the NHS Scheme employers now have a greater responsibility for ensuring that everything is dealt with properly.

  • Following discussions with the employee they should confirm the following in writing:
  • the employee’s paid and unpaid leave entitlements, either NHS Scheme or statutory
  • unless an earlier return date has been given by the employee, her expected return date based on 52 weeks’ paid and unpaid leave entitlement under the NHS Scheme; and
  • the length of any period of accrued annual leave which has been agreed may be taken following the end of the formal maternity leave period

the need for the employee to give at least 28 days’ notice if she wishes to return to work before the expected return date.

Before the employee goes on her maternity leave, agreement should be reached with the employer on any voluntary arrangements for keeping in touch during the maternity leave period including:

  • any voluntary arrangements to help her keep in touch with developments at work and, nearer the time of her return, to help facilitate her return to work
  • keeping in touch with any developments that may affect her intended date of return.


Changing your hours

Under the NHS Scheme, if you wish to change your hours when returning to work after maternity leave or adoption leave - and if you are a junior doctor in England shared parental leave also - the NHS employer has a duty to try and facilitate this.

If it is not possible the employer must provide written, objectively justifiable, reasons for why not. You will then either return to your original contract or to a post on different hours in the same grade with work of a similar nature and status to that which was held prior to your 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.

Under the NHS Scheme, if it is agreed that you will return to work on a flexible basis, including changed or reduced hours, for an agreed temporary period, this will not affect your right to return to your original contract at the end of the agreed period.


Statutory right to request flexible working

There is a statutory right to request flexible working for any employee with at least 26 weeks continuous service with their employer. Employers must give such a request serious consideration, and only reject it if there is a good business reason to do so.

Only one request can be made in a 12-month period. For more information on the right to request and links to the Acas Code of Practice which employers must follow when considering requests visit this government web page.

Under the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service NHS Employers are encouraged to develop positive flexible working arrangements which allow people to balance work responsibilities with other aspects of their lives. Each NHS employer should have a flexible working policy and flexible working arrangements should be available to all employees.

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 - get in touch.


If you don't plan to return

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

If you are 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.


Post-natal care and breastfeeding

Employers are required to undertake a risk assessment and to provide breastfeeding women with suitable private rest facilities. The Health and Safety Executive guidance recommends that employers provide:

  • a clean, healthy and safe environment for women who are breastfeeding
  • suitable access to a private room to express and store milk in an appropriate refrigerator

The NHS Scheme also encourages employers to consider requests for flexible working arrangements to support breastfeeding women at work.


Your leave rights as a parent

If you are a working parent, you have a right to up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child, up to your child reaching 18 years of age. This parental leave entitlement is different from the shared parental leave entitlement that is restricted to the first year after birth or adoption.

To be eligible you need at least a year’s continuous service with your employer. If you are covered by the NHS Scheme then continuous service with one or more employers in the NHS counts.

Parents may wish to take parental leave to spend more time with their children in their early years, to help with transitions into school or nursery, during school holidays, or for more specific reasons such as to accompany a child during a stay in hospital.

Each parent can take up to four weeks parental leave for each child in a year, but individual employers may agree to allow more to be taken in a year. It must be taken in whole weeks rather than on a daily basis, unless the employer agrees to it being taken more flexibly or if the child is disabled.

A week for these purposes equals the length of time an employee normally works over seven days, eg if an employee works four days a week, one week of parental leave equals four days.

As the leave applies to each child rather than to an individual’s job if an employee moves jobs, once they have the required length of service in the new job and they have not taken their full entitlement in their previous job they may use the remainder.

Employees who wish to take parental leave must give 21 days notice. Parental leave cannot be postponed by the employer unless there is a significant reason, e.g. it would cause serious disruption to the business, in which case the employer must provide a written explanation within seven days of the original request. They must also suggest a new start date within six months of the requested start date. They cannot change the amount of leave being requested.

An employee remains employed during parental leave.

Get more details of an employee’s statutory rights to parental leave


Time off for dependents

All employees have the right to reasonable time off to deal with an emergency, such as a child falling ill or having an accident at school. The amount of time off is what is necessary to deal with the immediate problem and arrange alternative care arrangements.

Your employer may pay you for the time off but there is no requirement to. Under the NHS scheme, there is an expectation that this will a short period of time off will be paid.

Under the NHS Scheme, there is also an entitlement to paid compassionate/bereavement leave which is covered by local agreements.


Advice from working medical parents

Watch this playlist and hear from less than full time trainees and a part-time doctor, as they talk about the challenges they face in juggling their lives, trying to balance commitments at work, with commitments at home.


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