Everything you need to know about maternity and paternity leave in the UK

On April 6th 2024, laws on statutory paternity and maternity leave in the UK changed. In this article, well explain what these changes are, and what they mean for employees.

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On April 6th 2024, laws on statutory paternity and statutory maternity leave in the UK changed. Below, we'll go through what those changes are and how they are likely to impact employees. If you have any questions regarding the changes discussed below, or any of the many Employment Rights legislation changes that came into effect on the 6th of April, please don't hesitate to get in touch!

Paternity leave

If an employee's baby is due on or before the 6th of April, they can choose to take either 1 or 2 weeks' statutory paternity leave, but leave must be taken in one block. The intended parent must also inform their employer of how much paternity leave they intend to take, and the date they want their leave to begin.

If they've followed these procedures, the employee can choose to begin their leave on the day of their baby's birth or the day after or a date they've agreed with their employer (must be within 8 weeks of the birth).

If their baby is due on or after the 7th of April 2024, an employee can choose to take 1 or 2 weeks' paternity leave together or in 2 separate blocks of 1 week. They must also inform their employer of the following:

  • The dates of their leave at least 28 days (including bank holidays) before their requested start date.
  • That they will use the leave to care for the child and/or the child's birth parent
  • They are planning to take paternity leave and the expected week of childbirth before the qualifying week of pregnancy.

To work out the qualifying week, use a calendar to count back 15 weeks from the week the baby is due. The qualifying week starts on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday.

  • They are the father and married to or partner of the birth parent, and this must be done in writing (via either a letter or an email).

Once these guidelines have been followed, an employee can begin their leave at any time in the first 52 weeks after birth. 

Changes to Statutory paternity pay (SPP)

Before April 2024, Statutory Paternity Pay was paid at £172.48 per week, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

From April the 6th 2024, Statutory Paternity Pay has risen to £184.03 per week or 90% of an employee's average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). If you are adopting, you may be entitled to additional adoption pay under your employment contract. 

Visit our page on the April 6th legislation changes to see why the 15th week is important!

Summary of the amendments made to paternity leave legislation

  1. Currently paternity leave can be taken either as 1 week or 2 consecutive weeks of leave. This will be changed to either 2 consecutive weeks of leave or 2 separate blocks of 1 week of leave.
  2. Currently, paternity leave must be taken within 8 weeks of the birth (or placement for adoption). This will be extended to within 52 weeks.
  3. Four weeks’ notice will be required to take each period of leave, save for in cases of domestic adoption, where the notice period will remain within seven days of the adopter receiving notice of the match.
  4. Eligible employees may give 28 days’ notice to vary the date of their planned leave if desired.
  5. Agency workers, zero hours contract workers and freelancers do not qualify for paternity leave or pay.
  6. Dads and partners have a legal right to take unpaid time off work for up to two antenatal appointments

Maternity leave

The major change to statutory maternity leave legislation is an extension to the redundancy protection period.

In the UK, the redundancy protection period exists to provide employees who are on maternity leave, adoption leave, shared parental leave, or parental leave with special protections (such as an alternative vacancy) if they are made redundant. This protection from redundancy exists so employees are not unfairly treated and discriminated against for reasons such as taking time off to attend antenatal appointments.

This protection period begins when the employee informs their employer that they are pregnant or have been matched with a child for adoption and continues until they return to work or until the end of their maternity or adoption leave, whichever comes first.

One example of a protective measure is the obligation for an employer to offer a protected employee an alternative vacancy should theirs be made redundant. It's important to note that the alternative vacancy regulation only applies if the employee is qualified for the role, and it's suitable in terms of status and pay.

What is maternity discrimination?

Maternity discrimination refers to instances where employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave are subject to unfair treatment by their employers because of their pregnancy or leave. Examples of maternity discrimination include being refused a promotion, dismissal, redundancy, or the denial of maternity leave or pay.

If you're an HR professional or manager, it's crucial to be aware of what qualifies as maternity discrimination, as employees who are discriminated against can make claims through an employment tribunal.

Who is the protection period being extended to?

As of the 6th April 2024, this protection is being extended to:

  • Pregnant employees - the “protected period” for pregnant employees will now begin on the date they inform their employer of their pregnancy, and last for the full pregnancy.
  • Those returning from maternity leave will be protected from redundancy for a period of 18 months from the first day of the estimated week of childbirth. This means protection will regularly extend well beyond the maternity leave period.
  • Those returning from adoption leave will too be protected for a period of 18 months from the date of placement.
  • Those who have returned from shared parental leave: for a period of 18 months from birth, or placement for adoption, provided that the employee has taken at least six continuous weeks’ shared parental leave.
  • An employee who has suffered a miscarriage for a two-week period following their miscarriage, unless the miscarriage is after 24 weeks of pregnancy in which case this will be classed as a stillbirth and the employee will be entitled to maternity leave.

These new rules and protections will apply when an employee notifies their employer of their pregnancy or if a period of maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave ends on or after 6 April 2024.

What about additional maternity leave (AML) ?

In the UK, additional maternity leave (AML) is an extension of statutory maternity Leave available to eligible employees. Statutory maternity leave in the UK currently stands at up to 52 weeks, which is divided into 26 weeks of ordinary maternity Leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave (AML).

As of the 6th of April, there will be no changes to those taking additional maternity leave, or their maternity leave period.

Changes to statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance

The weekly rate of statutory maternity pay, statutory maternity allowance, statutory paternity pay, statutory shared parental pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory parental bereavement pay will be £184.03 (up from £172.48).

To find out more about maternity allowance, please visit this government page.

Enhanced maternity pay

Some employers might offer you enhanced maternity pay, also known as the employer maternity scheme, occupational maternity pay or contractual maternity pay.

Enhanced or contractual maternity pay in the UK refers to any additional financial support provided by some employers to employees during their maternity leave, above the statutory minimum requirements set by the government. If you're unsure as to whether you qualify, be sure to check your contract of employment or speak to your HR department.  

What if you are based in Northern Ireland?

The changes to paternity and maternity leave described above apply to residents in England, Scotland and Wales. While some of these changes apply to Northern Ireland, many do not, because employment law there is devolved.

If you are based in Northern Ireland, see this article to find out which of these changes apply to you!

Get in touch with the Fertifa team

We appreciate there is a lot of new information to take on board here! If you are an HR professional looking to implement family-forming support for your employees, or you're looking for some legal advice on employment rights, please don't hesitate to reach out! We are always here to help, or point you towards the best people to do so!