What happens when I return to work at the end of my maternity leave?
Do I need to give my employer notice of when I will return from maternity leave?
You do not need to give any notice of return if you are going back to work at the end of maternity leave. You simply go to work on the day that you are due back. Your employer should have written to you to confirm the date your maternity leave ends though they do not always do this. If you take all the maternity leave that you are legally entitled to (Ordinary Maternity Leave plus Additional Maternity Leave), you are due back to work on the day after the end of the 52 week period. If you want to take less leave than this (e.g. Ordinary Maternity Leave only, which is six months, or you want to come back when your maternity pay runs out), you must give notice to return as you are returning early.
If you want to return to work before the end of your maternity leave, you must give your employer at least eight weeks notice of the date you will be returning. You can change your mind about returning to work early provided that you give at least 8 weeks notice before the date you now intend to return or the date you had intended to return, whichever is earliest. If you are an “employee shareholder”, you must give 16 weeks notice of the date you will be returning. “Employee shareholder” is a specific employment status in which the employee agrees to give up certain rights- take further advice if you think you are an employee shareholder.
If you return to work without giving notice your employer is entitled to postpone your return for the full notice period, but your employer cannot postpone it beyond the date your maternity leave would have ended. If your employer notifies you that your return date has been postponed and you return to work anyway you are not entitled to be paid. You do not have to give notice of early return (although it would be a good idea to) if your employer did not notify you of the date your maternity leave would end and in this case your employer has no right to delay your return or refuse to pay you for returning early.
Have I got the right to return to my old job?
When you go back to work after Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first six months of maternity leave) you have the right to return to your old job on your old terms and conditions. When you go back to work after taking some Additional Maternity Leave (AML) (any part of the second six months of maternity leave) you have the right to return to your old job on your old terms and conditions unless it is “not reasonably practicable”, in which case your employer must offer you a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions. It is very unusual for it to be “not reasonably practicable” to give you your job back unless your job is redundant . If your job still exists but your employer is only offering you an alternative, please contact us for advice.
If you are not allowed to return to work after maternity leave or you are not given your old job back, or not given a suitable alternative job if you are returning after some AML, you may have a claim for automatic unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.
Employers can reorganise the workplace from time to time. If a reorganisation has resulted in minor changes to your work it may still be considered the same job. If your job has changed significantly or is less favourable in terms of salary, status, job security, location or hours you may have a claim for detrimental treatment, unfair dismissal and/or sex discrimination. You should tell your employer that you are unhappy with the job you have been given and if you return to work while you are still negotiating with your employer you should make it clear that you are working under protest.
Your right to return to work may be different if you take consecutive periods of leave. You have the right to return to exactly the same job if you return after:
- Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML).
- Parental leave of four weeks or less.
- And OML plus parental leave of four weeks or less, taken either before or after the OML.
You can be offered a suitable alternative job if it is not reasonably practicable for you to return to your old job if you return after:
- Additional Maternity Leave (AML).
- Parental leave of more than four weeks.
- And AML followed immediately by OML (in respect of another baby) or parental leave (of any length).
Note: If you return to work, even for a short period, your leave will not be treated as consecutive. You are also counted as back at work if you are on annual leave or sick leave.
The same rights apply for Ordinary and Additional Adoption Leave as for Maternity Leave.
What are my rights if I want to change my hours when I return from maternity leave?
If you wish to change your working hours on your return then you must request to do so. You do not have an absolute right to change your hours but if an employer unreasonably turns you down then you may have a sex discrimination argument. See our FAQs specifically on when your employer offers you a job less well paid or with less responsibilities.
A flexible working request can take up to three months to process, so ask as early as you can. There is more information about changing your hours in our flexible working section.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details