After maternity leave

This guidance was last updated on January 2015

This section explains:

  • an employee's rights on returning to work following maternity leave;
  • the health and safety provisions which apply to new mothers at work;
  • matters relating to taking time off to care for sick dependents or domestic emergencies.

Rights on return to work

An employee may not return to work before the end of her compulsory two-week maternity leave period, from the date of childbirth.

An employee who is returning to work after a period of OML only, is entitled to return to the same job in which she was employed before she went on leave, on terms and conditions that are the same, or no less favourable than those that would have applied had she not been absent on maternity leave (unless a redundancy situation has arisen or a fixed-term contract has come to an end).

An employee who is returning to work after a period of AML, or a period of at least four weeks' parental leave on top of her OML, will normally return to the same job she was in before she went on leave. However, if there is a reason other than redundancy which means that it is not reasonably practicable for the University to permit her to return to the same job, she is entitled to return to a different job which is both suitable for her and appropriate in the circumstances, on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than they would have been had she not been absent (unless a redundancy situation has arisen or a fixed-term contract has come to an end).

Employees have the right to request flexible working (ie a change to their hours, times or place of work) and the employing department must deal with the request in accordance with the University's flexible working request procedure. If an employee wishes to work a flexible working pattern on a temporary basis to ease her return to work, she should discuss this with her department as soon as possible. It may be possible to use accrued annual leave for this purpose.

Employees returning from maternity leave may also have a separate entitlement to Parental Leave which is a period of unpaid leave.

Health and safety

The University is required to protect the health and safety at work of all employees, including new and expectant mothers and mothers who are breastfeeding.

The Management of Health and Safety at work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks to their employees, including new mothers, and to do what is reasonably practicable to control those risks.

The University is required to carry out a specific risk assessment paying particular attention to risks that could affect the health and safety of the new mother or her child. Once the department has been informed by the employee that she has recently given birth or is breastfeeding, the risk assessment should be carried out. For further information please contact the University Safety Office.

A woman who has recently given birth or is breastfeeding, and is unable to continue in her post on designated health and safety grounds, will be offered alternative work or, where none is available, she may be suspended on full pay until such times as she is able to resume her duties. In such cases departments should seek advice from the relevant HR Business Partner before taking action.

There is no statutory right to time off work for breastfeeding mothers.

Changing hours of work

Temporary changes: If an employee requests a temporary change to her normal working hours at the end of maternity leave, the department should, subject to operational needs, consider allowing her the opportunity to return to her normal working hours (before the change occurred) on a phased basis. Accrued annual leave may also be used to facilitate such a request.

If an employee would like to return to work gradually at less than her normal full-time hours, she should discuss this possibility with her department before she begins her maternity leave. This will allow departments time to arrange cover. Departments are asked to consider such requests favourably where at all possible, but any arrangement will depend on the operational needs of the department.

It is important to note that this flexibility of return does not allow an employee to choose from week to week what hours she would like to work. The intention is for employees and departments to agree a regular timetable of hours to help an employee to return to full-time work as smoothly as possible. Any arrangements must be agreed with the Head of Department so that they fit into the operational requirements of the department and/or group with whom the employee works. For the period of part-time work, employees will be paid at the appropriate pro-rata rate. This will have implications for pensions contributions which employees may wish to discuss with the Pensions Office.

Permanent changes: Following maternity leave, an employee's legal right is to return to the job which she held prior to her maternity leave. If an employee decides that she would like to amend her working hours permanently, she may apply to her department under the University's flexible working procedures. The department should seriously consider the possibility of a return on a different basis, which might include shorter hours or working fewer weeks of the year, but agreement to this type of request is dependent upon the operational requirements of the department. For any period worked part-time, pay and pensions contributions will be adjusted accordingly.

Annual leave / caring for those who are sick, and dealing with domestic emergencies

In the early days of settling a child into a new care arrangement, in a nursery or with a childcarer, there are often quite a number of matters which may require new mothers to be absent from the workplace, such as minor illness to be dealt with, or problems with settling into the new care arrangements. New mothers may wish to consider retaining some of their accrued holiday leave to enable them to deal with these situations.

Whilst absence from work to attend to an emergency such as the sickness of a member of an employee's immediate family or equivalent, or to attend to a family or domestic emergency will normally be paid in the first instance, it is intended that this is to enable employees to make the necessary arrangements for continued care or attention. Such paid leave will therefore normally be very limited (from half a day to no more than two days) and is not intended to cover repeated absences for minor problems, but rather to deal with exceptional circumstances. Additional leave, which will normally be unpaid or taken as annual leave, may be granted. In certain exceptional circumstances a department may grant a further limited period of paid leave for these purposes. It is important that these provisions are not abused and departments will monitor the frequency of leave requests. See 'Leave' for details.

Wherever possible employees must apply in advance to the Departmental Administrator (or equivalent), or Head of Department, or to the person to whom they would normally report sickness absence, and should not leave their place of work without having obtained permission from an appropriate person.