General Information – Maternity and Shared Parental Leave

Site updated on February 17, 2020


All women, irrespective of their length of service or the hours they work, have the right to take ordinary maternity leave. This was increased to 26 weeks in April 2003. For any information on your pay, refer to the Section – Maternity Payments

Since April 2007 you can also opt to take additional leave, even with no qualifying service with your Employer.

Additional leave means that you can opt to take a further twenty six weeks leave – immediately following the end of your Ordinary leave period, which is also 26 weeks. This gives you a total of 52 weeks leave. If you have at least 26 weeks continuous  service with your Employer, the first 39 weeks of this is paid as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). Your Employer may pay more than the statutory amounts, check your terms and conditions of employment or any company handbook for more information.

You will need to put your request for Maternity Leave in writing to your Employer. It is important to think  through childcare issues before committing yourself  to a date on which you plan to return to work. You can request returning on different hours; but this needs to be agreed with your Employer in advance. For more information refer to the Flexible Working Section of this guide.


Shared Parental Leave

 Brand new rights –  to shared parental leave (SPL) came into force in 2015.

Existing maternity rights and rights connected to ordinary paternity leave and pay will continue unchanged from April 2015.

SPL allows two parents to share leave in the first year after their child’s birth or adoption. You will only be eligible if the child was born / placed for adoption after 5th April 2015. The leave is in addition to the right to “ordinary” parental leave.

Additional Paternity Leave is now abolished, replaced by these new rights.

“Normal” maternity rights are unchanged by these new rights. If you are the mother and wish to take maternity leave without any “sharing”, nothing has changed. To qualify for the new shared leave, the mother needs to write to her employer, informing them of her intention to end maternity leave and use some of the remaining leave to share with her partner.


Here is a summary of the key points.

  • Up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ statutory pay can be shared between the parents if the mother brings her maternity leave and pay to an end early – this is called “curtailment”. Shared PL is calculated by deducting the number of weeks’ maternity leave taken on the leave curtailment date,  from 52. (so 12 weeks maternity leave taken, means 40 weeks of shared leave is available to the couple)
  • The first two weeks of Maternity Leave are compulsory leave and cannot be worked. In some jobs this is 4 weeks.
  • The available shared parental pay is calculated by deducting the number of weeks’ statutory maternity pay the mother has received from the 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay.
  • The partner of the employee who wants to take SPL must meet minimum work and earnings criteria for your employee to qualify for SPL. The service criterion is 26 weeks of employment or self-employment in the 66 weeks before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). There is also a modest weekly earnings requirement set by the statutory rules. In 2020 you must have earned at least £390 in total in 13 of the last 66 weeks – £30 per week in other words –  (add up the highest paying weeks, they do not need to be in a row)
  • The employee must have 26 weeks’ service at the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth to qualify, and remain in employment until the week before any period of SPL is taken.
  • To qualify for shared parental pay, you must meet the qualifying requirements for Shared Parental Leave and have a partner who meets the employment and earnings test; have earned not less than the government set “lower earnings limit”  in the relevant period – in 2019 this was £118 per week..
  • At least eight weeks before the employee’s first period of SPL you must give your employer a notice of entitlement and intention to take leave (called an “opt-in notice”).
  • At least eight weeks before the start of the period of SPL the employee must give the employer a “request for SPL” notice. This can be given at the same time as the opt-in notice.
  • The available SPL and pay can be allocated between the parents.
  • SPL must be taken in blocks of at least a week but does not have to be taken as a single period of leave and parents can elect to be on leave at the same time. Parents can put in three separate requests before the child is one year old. If a single period of leave is requested you are entitled to take the leave; it cannot be refused. If more than one period of leave (discontinuous leave) is requested in the same notice, the employer has 14 days in which to agree to the pattern of leave requested, refuse it or negotiate alternative dates. If alternative dates are agreed then you can take the leave on those new dates.
  • You are entitled to cancel or request a variation of leave that has already been requested as long as the employer has at least eight weeks’ notice of the change.


For assistance on informing your Employer or any questions – Contact our advice line.

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