Maternity Leave & Maternity Pay – are they the same thing?

Maternity Leave & Maternity Pay - are they the same thing?

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Are you confused by Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay? You know sort of what it means but you aren’t 100% sure. Here’s my essential guide to the differences between the two.

What is Maternity Leave?

Maternity Leave in the UK is a legally protected period away from work and is equal across the UK, so whichever country you live in, the rules are the same. By its nature, it is only relevant for Mums in employment. Other provisions exist for self-employed or unemployed Mums.

Maternity Leave is split equally into Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and Additional Maternity Leave (AML).

Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML)

OML starts the day after your baby is born.

The advantage of OML is that you are legally entitled to return to the same job and pay that you had before maternity leave began. That is a critical difference to AML.

Any contractual benefits (but not pay) that would be payable during this period, such as mobile phones and company cars, are still payable. Financially, taking only OML can be a good decision.

Additional Maternity Leave (AML)

AML is the subsequent 26 weeks of your Maternity Leave. 

It starts the day after your OML finishes. 

The main financial disadvantage is there is no entitlement to benefits like bonuses if you take AML. You also are not guaranteed that you will return to the same job (unlike OML). It’s worth noting that you legally accrue your holiday pay entitlement during the full 52 weeks.

How long is Maternity Leave?

If you are an employee, you are eligible for a period of up to 52 weeks of absence from your employer.  You don’t have to take all 52 weeks, however, this is the maximum amount that you can have.

If you don’t fancy a long Maternity Leave, you will need to take at least two weeks in most circumstances. However, if you work in a factory then the minimum compulsory Maternity Leave is four weeks.

Once the compulsory Maternity Leave period is over, it’s up to you how long you take off work.

Do I have to qualify for Maternity Leave?

There is no minimum service period with the employer to qualify for Maternity Leave, whether they have employed you for one day or ten years, you are legally allowed 52 weeks of Maternity Leave. 

Maternity Leave & Maternity Pay - are they the same thing?

However, as we discuss below, this is not the same for Maternity Pay.

What is Maternity Pay?

It is essential to remind yourself that Maternity Leave does not equal Maternity Pay. They are two different things. Just because you are entitled to Maternity Leave does not give you an automatic entitlement to Maternity Pay.

Maternity Leave is the period you are legally allowed to be absent from work concerning your pregnancy. In contrast, Maternity Pay is the remuneration or money you are entitled to receive during that Maternity Leave.

The Maternity Pay you receive during your Maternity Leave will vary depending on your employer and the period of service you have with them.

By its nature, Maternity Pay is for employed Mums only.  The reason for this is that it is a legal obligation on the employer to pay it.  If you are self-employed, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance.  The Department of Work and Pensions administers this.

In the UK, there are two types of Maternity Pay.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

SMP is the minimum Maternity Pay that your employer is obliged to offer you. It is a statutory obligation, and they must pay it if you qualify.

The amount of SMP is as follows:

Six weeks at full pay or 90% of full pay Average Weekly Earnings (AWE)

33 weeks at SMP rate £151 (2021-2022 rate). As you can see, SMP is quite a lot less than a regular salary. 

Enhanced / Contractual Maternity Pay

Enhanced Maternity Pay (EMP) is not a statutory obligation.  There is no requirement for your employer to pay you any more than SMP.  However, some employers offer an EMP package as part of their terms and conditions. 

I don’t know what percentage of employers offer EMP.  Some may offer it after a longer service period.  That was what my employer did when I was pregnant with my eldest.  Employees with more than five years of service could have 12 weeks of full pay before moving to the lower SMP rate.  As someone who only has two years of service, you can imagine my face when I found this out. Many public service employers such as schools and local authorities offer an EMP package so you might find yourself lucky.

How long is Maternity Pay?

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) generally is for 39 weeks. 

However, your employer might offer Enhanced Maternity Pay (EMP) for a more extended period.  Sometimes this is called Contractual or Occupational Maternity. The length of EMP on offer will vary, however always remember that it must be at least equal to or better than SMP.

Do I have to qualify for Maternity Pay?

SMP does have a qualifying service period. You need to be employed continuously for 26 weeks before the qualifying week of your pregnancy. The qualifying week is the 15th week before your due date. I know that sounds like a complex calculation – in summary, you need to have worked for the same employer for around 41 weeks to qualify.

If you have recently started a new job and you are pregnant, you might find that you don’t qualify for Maternity Pay. However, if this is the case you may qualify for Maternity Allowance. You can find out more information about Maternity Allowance on the HMRC website.

In summary, Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay are not the same thing. Maternity Leave is the time that a woman has away from work following the birth of her baby. On the other hand, Maternity Pay is what she gets paid during that time. The key thing to remember is that whilst you don’t have to qualify for Maternity Leave, you do have to qualify for Maternity Pay.

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