Once I'm on maternity leave, do I have to let my employer know that I'm returning to work?

Only if you decide to return to work early – i.e. before the maternity leave end date that was given to you in writing by your employer.

You must give eight weeks’ notice of any plan to return to work early, i.e. before the full 52 weeks are up. If you don’t do this and just turn up anyway, your employer can refuse to pay you or extend your maternity leave by up to eight weeks.

One reason why you may decide to return to work early is in order to share your leave with your partner under the new Shared Parental Leave scheme. You must give at least eight weeks’ notice of the intention to end your maternity leave to be able to opt into the Shared Parental Leave system.

Only 39 weeks of leave are paid, and in any event, the rate of statutory maternity pay (after the first six weeks) is not very high – £139.58 a week (£140.98 from April 2017) (or 90% of average weekly earnings if less). So sometimes mothers arrange to add some paid holiday to the end of their maternity leave, to lessen the dip in their finances. Eight weeks’ notice must be given of a decision to end the maternity leave and take holiday instead, and you must follow your employer’s rules for requesting holiday. It is a good idea to discuss these arrangements with your employer as soon as you can.

Even if you decide to stay off for the full 52 weeks of leave, it is usually sensible to contact your employer before going back to work to make arrangements for your return.

For more information about Shared Parental Leave, see workSMART's Shared Parental Leave section and SPLASH, a web portal designed by a group of charities and legal advisers.

You are protected under the law if your employer fails to give you notice of your return date and then attempts to dismiss or discipline you when you fail to return on that date.

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.