Your maternity leave start date is one of the most important dates on your maternity leave calendar.
Picking a maternity leave start date that is too early can leave you short on time and money. This is especially important if the baby is late. On the other hand, discomfort in those last months can make it nearly impossible to waddle from your car to the office.
Before we look at when you can start maternity leave, let’s have our usual refresher.
What is Maternity Leave?
If you are a regular reader, you will know that I like to remind my readers of what maternity leave is before we get into the detail.
Maternity Leave is the time that a woman is entitled (by law) to have away from work following the birth of a baby. It’s protected by law which is really helpful. This law makes sure employers and mum know where they stand.
Always remember that Maternity Leave is NOT Maternity Pay.
How long is Maternity Leave?
In the UK, maternity leave runs for a maximum of 52 weeks from the start date. You can ‘wrap’ other types of leaves around your maternity leave to increase the amount of time you have away from work. However, the ‘official’ maternity leave period is capped at 52 weeks.
At least two weeks of leave is compulsory and if you work in a factory, that increases to four weeks.
When is the earliest date I can start?
After your 20-week scan, your midwife or GP issues you with a Mat B1 Form (also called a Maternity Certificate). This form has your official due date on it.
Maternity leave starts on a date you chose BEFORE 11 weeks of that official due date
Why is the start date important?
The start date that you pick for your maternity leave is important.
Maternity leave started early runs the risk of having had a lot of maternity leave/pay before the baby arrives. 52 weeks is the maximum maternity leave. 39 weeks is the maximum maternity pay. Starting too early could force you back to work. Even worse, you could run out of money.
Start too late and you could be struggling to cope with going to work and being REALLY uncomfortable.
This is where holidays and annual leave work really well. Using some annual leave (before maternity leave) allows you to finish work early. This is not classed as maternity leave meaning your maternity pay doesn’t start either. Remember that this could be your last chance to rest for a while.
Using my own pregnancy as an example, I elected to start my maternity leave on the baby’s due date. I used two weeks of holiday to finish work early. I also used some to work shorter weeks prior to that. It was a good job that I did this because he was two weeks late and by then I was two weeks into my maternity pay.
When is the latest date I can start?
Maternity Leave must start by the baby’s due date. You do have the option of starting earlier than this if you wish.
As discussed above, the official due date is taken from your MATB1 form issued by the midwife or GP.
You need to have told your employer at least 15 weeks before your due date that you intend to take maternity leave
What happens if the baby is late?
As discussed above, an overdue baby does not mean that you can delay the official start date of your maternity leave (and pay). Your maternity leave and pay will start on that you selected (prior to your official due date).
What happens if the baby is early?
You might not be expecting an early arrival but they do happen. If your baby decides to make an appearance before the date that you selected, then your maternity leave will start the day after the baby is born.
If you find yourself in this scenario, make sure you tell your employer as soon as possible (otherwise your maternity pay will be messed up and you could be liable to pay the money back to them.)
In summary, you can’t start your maternity leave after your due date.
Maternity leave starts on the date selected by you (and you need to have told your employer when this will be 15 weeks before your due date).
The latest that this date can be is the official due date according to the Maternity Certificate (also called MATB1 form). If your baby arrives early, then maternity leave and pay starts the day after they are born. If they arrive late, then maternity leave and pay will start on the date that you told your employer.