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Dealing with maternity leave

Published 28 March 2017

For any woman currently on maternity leave watching TV and listening to the news in recent weeks may have made uncomfortable viewing and listening.

The hit BBC thriller The Replacement (1) – about one female employee who leaves to have a baby only for the woman covering her job to take over her life – concluded in dramatic fashion.

It was followed by news of a report that says Britain’s maternity pay is among the worst in Europe (2).

Maternity leave can present challenges for employers, especially small businesses, and handling it legally and correctly is crucial

Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, which is made up of ordinary maternity leave for the first 26 weeks and additional maternity leave for the last 26 weeks (3).

Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 39 weeks at 90 per cent of average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks. For the next 33 weeks it is £139.58 or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) (4).

A TUC report, published just before Mother’s Day, revealed that the UK ranks 22 out of 24 amongst European countries that offer statutory maternity leave. The study found that most European countries offer three months or more compared to six weeks in the UK (5).

At the end of the maternity leave period, the employee can expect to return to her original job. Of course things within the workplace can change, and if this is not possible then a comparable job on the same terms and conditions should be offered.

In cases where employers need to restructure and this leads to redundancies, it is a myth that pregnant women and those on maternity leave cannot be made redundant. They can be, if there is a genuine redundancy situation – and pregnancy or maternity is not the reason for redundancy.

It is reported that 54,000 women leave the workplace each year during or after pregnancy with one of the reasons being compulsory redundancies. This led Labour MP Sarah Champion to urge the government to face up to the true scale of maternity discrimination (6).

ACAS has produced a guide titled: Managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave (7).


1. The Replacement - BBC One [Internet]. BBC. [cited 2017 Mar 28]. Available from:

2. Britain is practically the worst country in Europe when it comes to maternity pay [Internet]. The Independent. 2017 [cited 2017 Mar 28]. Available from:

3. Maternity pay and leave - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Mar 16]. Available from:

4. Pay: Maternity pay and leave - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Mar 28]. Available from:

5. osdjay. UK in the relegation zone for decently-paid maternity leave in Europe, warns TUC [Internet]. TUC. 2017 [cited 2017 Mar 28]. Available from:

6. Thousands of mothers face maternity discrimination, MP warns [Internet]. Evening Standard. 2017 [cited 2017 Mar 28]. Available from:

7. Maternity rights and redundancy | Acas | Acas [Internet]. [cited 2017 Mar 28]. Available from:

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