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Returning to work after maternity leave can be tough. Our tips help you plan your return and know your rights, flexible working, options and childcare 

You might slot straight back into work after maternity leave, or feel like it’ll take ages to get used to being apart from your baby. Knowing more about this transition and your rights around it can help you feel more confident when the time comes.

That’s why this article covers your rights when you go back to work after maternity leave, including flexible working, and what to do if you need to take more time off. We also give you some tips to help you when you return to work and hints on choosing childcare.

Your rights when you go back to work after maternity leave

If you’re returning to work after 26 weeks or less, you’re entitled to return to the same job. If you’re returning after more than 26 weeks’, you still have the right to return to the same job unless your employer has a good business reason why not. If this is the case, your employer should offer you a suitable alternative job with the same terms and conditions. 

A good business reason might be where your employer has made significant changes in the organisation while you were on leave and your job and your colleagues’ jobs have changed. It’s not a good reason if your employer is keeping the person covering your maternity leave in your post and offering you something different.

If your employer doesn’t give you your job back, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal and/or maternity discrimination. If you want to do that, you should seek legal advice – see the end of this page for contact details. You have three months to make a claim and you should contact Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for Early Conciliation to do so.

Options if you need to take more time off

Your employer should assume that you are taking the full 52 weeks’ maternity leave. If you want to return to work earlier, you must give at least eight weeks’ notice to return to work early. For example, some women return to work when their maternity pay ends after 39 weeks.

If you are not well enough to return to work at the end of your maternity leave, you are entitled to take sick leave in the normal way. That means you should notify your employer, providing any sick notes required.

If your employer usually pays full sick pay, you are entitled to this after maternity leave. If you usually get Statutory Sick Pay, you may not be entitled to it if your earnings were not high enough in the previous eight weeks, see: www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

You accrue annual leave as normal during your maternity leave so you could ask your employer if you can use up some holiday.

If you need further time off you could give notice to take Parental Leave. You could also talk to your employer about a career break or a further period of unpaid leave. It is a good idea to confirm it in writing and to talk to your employer about whether you will be returning to the same job.

Six tips on returning to work after maternity leave

Here are our tips to help you with your return to work:

1. You could ask for a phased return

For example, you could ask to use your annual leave to work a shorter week for the first month, or reduce your hours on a temporary basis.

2. You could agree a back-to-work plan with a handover

This can be helpful while you get back up to speed, but don’t feel tied to it – it's OK to go at your own pace. 

3. Try to plan regular reviews with your line manager

A weekly update is useful to talk about what is working well and to raise issues. It also helps to show your boss that you’re adding value.

4. Try to agree a date for an objectives-setting meeting

A good time for this will be about two months after your return to work. Use this meeting to agree short-term objectives and to talk about your career plan. This will show your commitment and professionalism.

5. Try not to worry about asking for help.

It’s very easy for those you work with to assume everything is OK if you don’t say anything.

6. Try to review your life and career goals after you have been back for a couple of months

Flexible working after maternity leave

You might choose to work differently after having your baby to balance your job with your family or childcare needs. Flexible working could be an option for you to consider. For example, you could work part-time, term-times only, work from home or a job share.

All employees are entitled to request changes to their hours of work, days or work or place of work after they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks. This is called a ‘request for flexible work’. You should make a written application and think carefully about how it would work in your role. Find out more about choosing flexible working.

Choosing childcare

Feeling happy with your childcare can help make you feel more relaxed about returning to work. Read our article about childcare options.

It can feel strange having a foot in two different worlds. You’ll be in the working world where you carry on as you did before the birth, and then you’ve got your new life with your baby. But try to remember that most people find the right balance eventually.

This page was last reviewed in September 2017.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Acas offers advice on employment rights and early conciliation. Its Helpline Online can answer questions on employee rights.

Maternity Action for information and advice on maternity and parental rights at work on 0808 802 0029. 

Working Families helpline on 0300 012 0312.

Yesslaw provides advice and help with resolving disputes at work. Contact  020 3701 7530/7531 or email info@yesslaw.org.uk.

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