Returning to work after maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a big adjustment. Read about how to go back to work plus information on choosing childcare and your flexible working rights.

The first few days back at work after returning from maternity leave can be challenging as you get used to working life again and time away from your baby. You may feel comfortable being back in a familiar environment, while at other times it may feel like it will take ages to settle in again.

A back to work plan agreed with your employer and including a planned handover period can provide a helpful framework for you to get back up to speed. You may find the plan needs to be readjusted because you are adapting quickly or not. It's OK to speed things up or down if that feels right to you.

Rights on return to work

If you are returning to work after 26 weeks or less you are entitled to return to exactly the same job as you were doing before the start of your leave. If you are returning after more than 26 weeks’ maternity leave you still have the right to return to the same job but if your employer has a good business reason why you cannot return to the same job, your employer can offer you a suitable alternative job on the same terms and conditions. 

A good business reason might apply where the employer has made significant changes in the organisation while you were on leave and your job and your colleagues’ jobs have changed. It is not a good reason if your employer is keeping your maternity cover in your post and offering you a different job after returning to work. There must be a good reason why you cannot return to your old job.

If your employer does not give you your job back after maternity leave you may have a claim for unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination and you should seek legal advice. You have three months from the date of refusal to make a claim and you should contact ACAS for Early Conciliation if you are thinking of bringing a claim. There are a number of organisations below who may be able to help you resolve disputes at work.

Tips on returning to work after maternity leave

  • DO ask for a phased return to help you return to work in the first few months. 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.
  • DO plan regular reviews with your line manager. A weekly update with your boss during the first month is useful for reporting on what is working well and to raise issues. This also has the benefit of enabling you to appear professional and proactive. It will help your boss to realise that you are adding value from day one.
  • DO agree a date for an objectives setting meeting in your first week back. A good time for this will be about two months after your return to work. Use this meeting to agree short-term objectives and also talk about your career plan. This will enable you to reassure your line manager of your commitment and professionalism.
  • DO ask for help. It is very easy for those you work with to assume everything is OK if you don’t say anything.
  • DO review your life and career goals after you have been back for a couple of months.

You may choose to work differently when going back to work after having a baby in order to balance your job and time with your family or childcare needs. Flexible working could be an option for you to consider. . There are a number of different options you could consider, such as working part-time, term-time only, working from home or jobshare.

Flexible working after maternity leave

All employees are entitled to  request changes to their hours of work, days or work or place of work provided they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks. This is called a ‘request for flexible work’. Employees can apply for any reason - even if it is linked to their personal preferences. This, of course, includes parental or other caring responsibilities. You should make awritten application and think carefully about how it would work in your role. Read more in our article here.

Choosing childcare

Finding the right childcare is the most common concern amongst parents. Availability, flexibility and cost of childcare can vary dramatically between different areas of the UK. Read our article about childcare options for families for more information.

It can feel strange having a foot in two different worlds; the working world where you have to carry on functioning in the same way as you did before your baby was born, and your new life with your baby. You will find the right balance eventually and how to make your two worlds work well together.

Updated April 2016

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

ACAS offers advice on employment rights and early conciliation. You can call their helpline on 0300 123 1100.

Maternity Action has information on maternity rights and you can call their helpline on helpline 0845 600 8533. 

You can call the Working Families' helpline on 0300 012 0312 or email:

Yesslaw provides advice and help with resolving disputes at work, as well as information on shared parental leave. Call 020 3701 7530/7531 or email