Before the birth

This guidance was last updated on January 2015

The 'timeline of key actions and considerations' document and the 'maternity calculator' tool on the right-hand side will assist the employee and the department in working out any key dates and considerations in relation to the employee's maternity leave.

Notification and discussions before going on maternity leave

Employees are encouraged to share the news of pregnancy with their department as early as possible as it will mean that their department knows that they are entitled to time off for antenatal appointments and that particular health and safety rules apply.

In order to qualify for and to claim maternity leave and pay, an employee must notify her department no later than by the end of the qualifying week of:

  1. the fact she is pregnant; and
  2. the EWC; and
  3. the date when she intends to start taking leave; and
  4. whether she intends to return to work after the birth of her baby (which must be for a minimum of three months to qualify for the University's contractual pay scheme*).

If an employee is on a fixed-term contract, please refer to the 'Fixed-term contracts' section below.

A Maternity leave plan (74kb) is provided for employees and departments to use to collect the above information and other details relating to the proposed maternity leave period. If the Maternity Leave Plan is completed fully by the employee and the department, this will ensure that the notification requirements are met. Within 28 days of completing the Maternity Leave Plan, if the employee plans to return to work, her return to work date should be confirmed (if appropriate) with her in writing. If an employee does not intend to return to work after the birth of her baby, her entitlement to statutory maternity benefits should be outlined to her, as she will not qualify for the University contractual maternity pay scheme. A pregnant employee is entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave regardless of whether or not she qualifies for any type of maternity pay.

Risk assessment: As soon as the department has been notified by their employee that she is pregnant, they should arrange to carry out appropriate risk assessments. The employee will also need to notify her department of her antenatal appointments, once they have been confirmed by her healthcare provider.

MATB1 form: The employee should also provide her department with a copy of her 'MATB1' form that she will have been given by her healthcare provider sometime around the 25th week of pregnancy.

Additionally, the employee and the department should discuss, explore and/or agree on the following:

  • 'Keeping in Touch' (KIT) days arrangements;
  • arrangements for staying in touch during the maternity leave period;
  • how the work will be covered in the employee's absence, and any other concerns or issues, eg issues related to externally funded contracts;
  • how the employee's employment benefits are affected during a period of maternity leave;
  • the option (if eligible) of using the provisions under the Shared Parental Leave (SPL). Both, the employee and her partner will need to meet the eligibility criteria for the scheme, and additional processes will need to be followed. For all information on SPL, including the eligibility criteria, please click here.

A timeline of all the key dates in relation to maternity can be found in the PDF document on the right-hand side menu.

When leave can begin

A woman may choose to start her maternity leave any time after the beginning of the 11th week before the EWC. Maternity leave will start automatically if she gives birth before her notified date, or if she is ill for a pregnancy-related reason during the last four weeks of her pregnancy.

If an employee does not give her department the required notification for the start of her maternity leave, she may lose her right to start maternity leave on her chosen date. Departments are only required to make exceptions to this where it was not reasonably practicable for the notice to have been given any earlier.

If the department and employee fill in the Maternity Leave Plan then this will satisfy the notification requirements in this respect. Use the 'maternity calculator' tool on the right-hand side to work out the various key maternity dates.

Changing the start of maternity leave

Once a woman has notified her department of the date she wishes to start her maternity leave, she can change this date as long as she notifies her department of the new start date by whichever is the earlier of either 28 days before the date she originally intended to start her leave or 28 days before the new date she wants to start her leave.

If it is not reasonably practicable for her to give this much notice (for example, if the baby is born early and she has to start her leave straight away) then she should tell her department as soon as she can. The notification does not have to be in writing unless the department requests it.

Confirmation by the department of the end date of leave

Once an employee has provided the necessary notice of the intended start date of her leave, her department should in turn notify the employee of the date on which the leave will end. This will normally be 52 weeks (one year) from the start of maternity leave, except where an employee has already stated her intention to take only a portion of the 52 week entitlement. A 'maternity calculator' tool, a Maternity Leave Plan and a letter can be used for this purpose (found on the right-hand side menu).

The department should normally confirm the end date of the employee's maternity leave with her within 28 days of the notification.

The start of maternity leave

The maternity leave period normally starts on the date the employee has notified her department that she intends to start leave. There are some exceptions to this rule as follows:

(i) Absence due to childbirth before the intended start date

If the baby is born before the date the employee has notified that she wishes to start leave (or before she has had the opportunity to notify any date) the maternity leave period starts automatically on the day after the date of the birth. This happens even if the birth takes place before the 11th week before the birth was originally expected. In this circumstance the woman should give her department notice (in writing if the department asks for it) of the date of the birth if it has already taken place, and the date on which the baby was originally expected. The actual and expected dates of birth can be provided together on the maternity certificate (MATB1) if this is still to be issued by the time the baby is born.

In the unusual circumstance that the baby is born prematurely before the qualifying week, the employee will be taken as satisfying the continuous employment rule for the University's contractual maternity pay scheme if she would have been continuously employed but for early childbirth. The maternity pay will be paid from the day following the birth of the baby.

In the very unfortunate circumstances that a baby is stillborn before the 25th week of pregnancy, the woman is not entitled to pay under the statutory or University pay provisions. Sick leave or compassionate leave should be considered in such circumstances. The Departmental Administrator (or equivalent) should seek advice from their HR Business Partner should such a situation arise.

(ii) Sickness absence for a pregnancy-related reason before the intended start date

An employee who is absent from work due to illness will normally be able to take sick leave until she starts maternity leave on the date notified to her department. However, if a pregnancy-related illness occurs at or after the beginning of the fourth week before the EWC, the maternity leave period will start automatically on the day after the first day of absence.

(iii) Dismissal, resignation or end of contract before the intended start date

If an employee resigns, her contract ends or she is dismissed before the date she has notified to begin her leave, or before she has notified a date, she loses the right to the University's contractual maternity pay scheme and all other employment benefits as at the end date of her employment with the University. She may still qualify for SMP if the eligbility criteria are met. The Departmental Administrator (or equivalent) should seek advice from their HR Business Partner should such a situation arise.

Health and safety at work

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 and expectant 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 or expectant mother or her child. Once the department has been informed by the employee that she is pregnant, has recently given birth or is breastfeeding, the risk assessment should be carried out.

If the risk assessment identifies any specific risks that cannot be avoided (eg work with dangerous chemicals, radioactive material etc), the University is required to follow a series of steps to ensure that the woman is not exposed to that risk. If this extremely rare situation arises, the department should always seek advice from the University Safety Office and the relevant HR Business Partner in all such cases.

There is no statutory right to time off work for breastfeeding mothers. However, on returning to work the employee should provide her employer with written notification that she is breastfeeding, so appropriate risk assessments can be carried out.

Time off for antenatal appointments

All pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor. This entitlement applies regardless of the employee's hours of work or length of service and time off for antenatal care will be paid at the employee's normal rate of pay.

An employee should provide notification of her antenatal appointments to her department, once the appointments have been confirmed. The employing department should clarify with their employee what notice and information are expected from her in relation to this.

Antenatal care is not restricted to medical examinations related to the pregnancy. It could, for example, include relaxation classes and parentcraft classes as long as these are advised by a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor.

With the exception of the very first antenatal appointment, departments are entitled to ask the employee for evidence of antenatal appointments and, on request, the employee must show her department an appointment card or some other document showing that an appointment has been made.

From 1st October 2014, fathers and partners of pregnant women are entitled to take unpaid time off to accompany their partners to up to two antenatal appointments. Any additional time off that might be required to accompany pregnant women to appointments should be requested as annual leave in the normal way from the employing department. This provision also applies to parents whose child will be born through a surrogacy arrangement and where they meet the requirements for and intend to apply for a Parental Order for this child. Please click here for further information about this provision.