What rights do I have to return to work after my maternity leave period ends?

You have a basic statutory right to return to work on the terms and conditions that applied before you went on maternity leave, but there is an important difference to the protection the law gives you, depending on how much maternity leave you decide to take.

The law divides maternity leave into two sections. The first 26 weeks are called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and the second 26 weeks are called Additional Maternity Leave (AML).

You should also check whether your employer offers something better than the minimum protection offered by the law.

After returning to work from OML, you are entitled to return to the job you were doing before going on maternity leave. This right is unaffected by adding on up to four weeks of unpaid parental leave.

After returning to work from AML, you are entitled to return to the same job, but if this is no longer reasonably practicable, you have the right to return to a different job that is suitable and appropriate for you. You have the right to return on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than if maternity leave had not been taken, with your seniority and pension rights unaffected.

You may also want to consider exercising your right to request flexible working. You can do this before you return to work so that, if your request is granted, it is in place ready for your first day back.

You may also want to think about sharing some of your maternity leave with your partner, if you qualify. Check our section on the statutory Shared Parental Leave regime.

An employee returning to work after taking Shared Parental Leave is entitled to return to the same job, as long as their total leave period, after adding together all maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave, comes to 26 weeks or less. Unpaid parental leave of up to four weeks can be added without affecting this right.

Where the total number of weeks taken exceeds 26 weeks, or where more than four weeks’ unpaid parental leave has been taken, your right to return is the same as your right when returning from Additional Maternity Leave. In other words, you are entitled to return to the same job, unless it is not reasonably practicable, in which case you have a right to return to a suitable and appropriate job on no less favourable terms and conditions.

If you are returning to work after a period of adoption leave, your rights mirror those of an employee who has taken maternity leave. The Shared Parental Leave regime applies equally to adopting parents. More information on adoption leave.

It is not possible to take annual leave during maternity leave, so you will have built up plenty of holiday that you will need to take. You might want to add it to the end of your maternity leave in one block, or you might spread it over a period of weeks, enabling you to build up your hours gradually when you return to work. In any event, you will need to follow your employer’s rules on giving notice to take holiday. Speak to your employer about what arrangement works best for you.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.