Managing Maternity: Returning to Work after Maternity Leave

returning to work maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave has ended. The employee’s right to return to the same job depends on how much leave they’ve taken.

They’ve taken up to 26 weeks’ maternity leave 

They have the right to return to the same job.

They’ve taken more than 26 weeks’ maternity leave 

They have the right to return to the same job unless the employer has a genuine reason to offer them an alternative. 

This right applies even if someone else is doing that person’s job well while they’re on maternity leave.

If there’s no alternative but to offer them a different job, the job must be suitable, appropriate and on the same terms. For example, it must have the same:

  • pay
  • benefits
  • holiday leave and pay
  • location
  • seniority 

Returning to work sooner than planned

If an employee wants to return before taking all their maternity leave, they must tell you in writing at least 8 weeks before the date they want to return. 

If they want to change how they work 

An employee can make a flexible working request if they want to make significant changes to how they work (for example, different working hours).

Holiday leave and pay

Employees build up (‘accrue’) paid holiday as normal during maternity leave. 

This means they could return to work with a lot of holiday to take. So it’s a good idea to agree with them how they’ll take their holiday before they go on maternity leave.

Whether they’ll need to carry over any holiday depends how far through the holiday year they return to work. For example, if they take 6 months’ maternity leave and return to work with 6 months left of the holiday year, they might have time to take their holiday.

Health and safety 

The law says you must do a health and safety risk assessment for women of child-bearing age, including pregnant women and new mothers.


By law, you must provide somewhere suitable for your employee to rest if they’re breastfeeding.

It’s a good idea to also provide support so they can breastfeed or express milk at work, such as a private room and a fridge to store the milk.

Time off for emergencies

Employees have the legal right to reasonable time off to look after a dependant, such as a child or a partner. What’s ‘reasonable’ depends on the situation and the circumstances involved.

The employee should tell you as soon as possible:

  • the reason for the absence
  • how much time they’ll need

This time off is without pay, unless the employee’s contract says otherwise.


By law, you cannot make an employee redundant for taking maternity leave or requesting flexible working to care for their child.

If they want to leave their job

The employee must follow the usual process for resigning, including giving notice. This process should be written in their employment contract.

It’s a good idea to consider any handover that might be needed. You could use keeping in touch days (KIT days) to do this.

They might need to repay some or all of their maternity pay if they took ‘contractual’ maternity pay.

If they have a complaint

If the employee is unhappy about how their returning to work has been managed, they can raise the issue with you. 

It’s best if they raise the issue informally first.

They can also raise a formal complaint (‘grievance’).

Need help Managing Maternity Leave. Contact Beagle HR Today for Expert HR Support.

This article has been adapted from the ACAS website