What are my rights returning to work after maternity leave?

In a survey carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in June 2017  77% of people said they had a negative - and possibly discriminatory - experience during pregnancy, maternity leave or after their return to work. So it’s no surprise that for many parents, this is an anxious time. 

Understanding your rights and where to access support can offer some reassurance.

Will my job be the same?

If you’ve been on maternity leave for less than 26 weeks (“ordinary maternity leave”), you’re entitled to return to exactly the same job as you had before going on leave. 

If you’ve been on maternity leave for more than 26 weeks (“additional maternity leave”), your employer can offer you an alternative, similar role if they can show that it’s not “reasonably practicable” for you to return to exactly the same job. The job you’re offered must be on the same or better terms than your previous role, in terms of pay, benefits, holiday entitlements and seniority. 

Read ACAS guidance on returning to work after maternity leave.

Asking for part-time / flexible working

You can ask for flexible working at any time, but it’s particularly helpful for working parents. This could mean changing days or shift patterns, working from home, or working flexible hours. Your employer doesn’t have to say yes, but they must have a valid business reason for saying no.

Learn more about making a flexible working request - ACAS   

How do I prove maternity discrimination?

In UK law, there is a ‘protected period’ that starts when you become pregnant and ends when your maternity leave ends, or you return to work (whichever is earlier). If your employer treats you unfavourably during the ‘protected period’ because of pregnancy, a pregnancy related illness or maternity leave, this is unlawful discrimination. 

When the protected period has ended, you still can’t be discriminated against for having taken maternity leave or tried to take maternity leave.

Common examples of maternity discrimination include:

  • inappropriate comments about time off
  • mishandling flexible working requests
  • raising performance issues caused by maternity leave
  • failure to offer career advancement opportunities.

Ask yourself this: if I wasn’t on / going on maternity leave, would I have been treated better? If the answer is yes, you may have a claim for discrimination. 

Read more about maternity discrimination on the Working Families website 

Can I quit my job after maternity leave?

Yes, you can leave your job after maternity leave. Your contract will tell you how much notice you need to give your employer. You won’t have to pay back any statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance, but might have to pay back contractual maternity pay, depending on your contract. 

Find out what pay you are entitled to during maternity

Maternity rights checklist

If you’re returning to work, remember:

  • Your holiday entitlement (including bank holidays) accrues during maternity leave. 
  • Your employer must carry out a risk assessment for you on return to work.
  • By law, your employer must provide somewhere suitable for you to rest if you’re breastfeeding.
  • You have the legal right to reasonable time off, without pay, to look after a dependant such as a child in an emergency.
  • You can take up to 10 Keeping in Touch (KIT) days while you’re on leave. KIT days can be a great way to identify possible issues and improve the transition back to work. Find out if KIT days could help you. 

Next steps

Becoming a parent is life-changing. If you’ve experienced maternity discrimination or you’re feeling overwhelmed on returning to work, you’re not alone. 

Read real life stories published by the charity Pregnant then Screwed.

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