All pregnant employees, ie those working under a contract of employment, are entitled to take up to 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave (SML) around the birth of their child. Employees automatically qualify for SML - it does not matter how long the employee has worked for you.
The 52 week SML period is made up of 26 weeks' ordinary maternity leave (OML) followed immediately by 26 weeks' additional maternity leave (AML).
In addition, due to the introduction of shared parental leave and pay on 5 April 2015, an eligible mother can end her maternity leave early, and with her partner or the child's father, opt for shared parental leave. Read more on shared parental leave and pay.
Compulsory maternity leave
An employee must take a minimum of two weeks' leave after the birth of her child - or four weeks if she works in a factory. You must not allow her to work during this time.
SML remains at 52 weeks regardless of the number of children resulting from a single pregnancy.
Stillbirth and miscarriage
If your employee gives birth to a stillborn baby, she is still entitled to maternity leave if the birth happens after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
If a stillbirth or miscarriage occurs before the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, you should allow the employee to take sick or compassionate leave instead.
When a baby dies
If the baby is born alive at any point in the pregnancy but then later dies, the employee is still entitled to SML.
Enhanced maternity leave
You can also provide enhanced maternity leave arrangements to attract and retain employees.
For example, you could allow employees with more than a year's service to take more than 52 weeks' leave.
You can offer these arrangements either as a contractual right or on a discretionary, case-by-case basis, but use caution when exercising discretion to avoid claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.