Returning to work after maternity leave Employment

For some, returning to work after maternity leave is an exciting prospect. For others, it can feel a little bit daunting. This can depend on a number of factors, and each individual is different. If you need some support in returning to work after maternity leave, we can help. Here you will find a quick guide to going back to work following maternity leave, including your rights and options.

Returning to your current employer after maternity leave 

Do I have to notify my employer of my return?

If you have previously agreed a return date with your employer, there is no need to give any notice. Quite often, you will receive a letter confirming your return date, and if that is the case, all you need to do is go in to work as normal on that date. 

If you want to return to work before your maternity leave ends, you should give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice of the date you plan to return. It is important to note, that if you go back to work without giving the correct notice, your employer can legally postpone your return until the official end of your maternity leave, and you are not entitled to be paid for any work undertaken in that time. 

Will I have my old job? 

If you are returning to work after 26 weeks or less (the length of Ordinary Maternity Leave), then you are entitled to go back to the same job with the same rate of pay and conditions as before you went off on Maternity Leave. 

If you are returning to your job after more than 26 weeks off (usually Ordinary Maternity Leave + Additional Maternity Leave), then you have the right to return to your old role on the same pay and conditions as before, unless it is ‘not reasonably practicable’. 

It is possible that during your maternity leave, significant changes have been made to the organisation, which will impact your return. In this case, you should be offered a similar job with the same pay and conditions as your previous role. Or, if you role has become redundant during the time you have been off, a suitable alternative vacancy (for the same pay) should be found for you. 

An employer cannot offer you a different job role if your job still exists, would still exist if you hadn’t gone on maternity leave, you can’t do the new job, or the new job has worse conditions and less pay (i.e. full-time when you were part-time previously). 

If your employer refuses to have you back at all following your maternity leave, then you may be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal and/or maternity discrimination. 

Can I ask for flexible working? 

Many employers nowadays can and do accommodate flexible working for better work-life balance. This can include job shares, working from home, part-time or staggered hours. 

After returning from maternity leave, you are able to make an application for flexible working if you have worked continuously for the same employer over the last 26 weeks (inclusive of maternity leave). 

The application process involves writing to your employer with details of how you want to work flexibly, when you would like to start, and how the effects of flexible working within the business could be mitigated. Once you have submitted your application, your employer will consider the request and make a decision within three months. If flexible working is agreed, your contract should be changed to reflect this. But if the employer doesn’t agree to the request, they must write to you with details of why they are refusing, which you can follow up in an employment tribunal if you disagree. 

Can I extend my maternity leave?

If you cannot return to work following your maternity leave due to poor health, you are still entitled to take sick leave in the normal way. In cases like these, the normal processes apply and you should provide sick notes from your GP. 

If your employer pays full sick pay, you are entitled to this following your maternity leave. If you get SSP (Statutory Sick Pay), you need to check if you are entitled to this at:

If you would just like more time, but aren’t sick, then you could ask your employer to add your annual leave on to the end of your maternity leave. You will have accrued holidays while you are off and are entitled to these as normal.

If neither of these options are suitable for your circumstances, you could also: 

  • Take Parental Leave 
  • Ask about a career break 
  • Take a period of unpaid leave 

If you take one of the above routes, make sure you speak to your employer about your return and get any agreements confirmed in writing before moving forwards. 

What do I do if I don’t want to go back to work? 

If you decide that you do not want to return to work following maternity leave, you must honour the terms of your contract by giving the correct notice. If this is not clear in your contract, you need to give at least a week’s notice. 

If you do leave, ensure you are paid for any outstanding holiday you have left. Remember, you will have accumulated some throughout your maternity leave, which you are entitled to. 

Before you give notice, check your contract or employee handbook for any conditions around maternity pay. Some employers may require you to spend a length of time back at work in order to keep your full maternity pay, so be aware of this before making any concrete decision. 

This isn’t the case for statutory maternity pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance. 

Childcare Choices 

Of course, one of the most important things to consider when returning to work is who will look after your child when you return to work. Childcare comes in many forms, and can depend on how you feel about it, the size of your family and the age of your children. Here is a quick rundown of each. 


Childminders usually look after your child in their own home. As self-employed carers, they should be registered with Ofsted. 

Day Nurseries 

Many day nurseries will look after babies and toddlers of all ages until they start school. There are many different options for day nurseries including private, local authority and workplace. 

Nannies & Au Pairs

A nanny or au pair looks after your child at your own home. Depending on the arrangement, they can either live-in with you or elsewhere.  

Informal/Family Childcare 

Informal childcare can take the form of a friend or family member you trust with your little one. 

Paying for childcare

If your child goes to a registered childminder, playscheme, nursery or club, then you may qualify for support in paying for childcare. 

Tax-Free Childcare 

This government backed scheme can give you up to £2,000 a year (per child) for childcare costs. It works by giving you 20p on top of every 80p you pay into your Tax-Free childcare account.

Put simply, if you pay £500 per month for childcare, if you pay through a Tax-Free Childcare account you would only have to pay £400, and the government would top up the remaining balance of £100. 

Am I eligible for tax-free childcare? 

Eligibility for tax-free childcare depends on a number of factors including: your employment status, earnings, age of child, circumstances and nationality. If you are married or in a civil partnership and live together, or live together as though you are married, then your partner’s income and employment status will also be taken into account. 

 To find out more about tax-free childcare and eligibility, click here

30 Hours Free Childcare 

If your child is aged between 3-4 years old, you may be eligible for up to 30 hours free childcare. This will continue until your child starts in reception class, or reaches compulsory school age. And you may still have to cover extra costs for items such as nappies, wipes, meals, or trips. 

Am I eligible for 30 hours free childcare?

Usually, you can get 30 hours free childcare if you are in work, on sick leave or annual leave, or on maternity, paternity or adoption leave. Eligibility is also dependent on how much you and your partner earns (if you have one). To learn more about 30 hours free childcare and the eligibility criteria set out by the government, click here

Returning to work after having children

If you are making a fresh start and plan to get a new job after having children, click here for our in-depth guide. 

Contact Building Better Opportunities for more support

If you are returning to work after maternity leave, we can help you in a wide range of areas should you need it. Including understanding what benefits you are entitled to and which childcare support scheme may help you. For a detailed and private 1-2-1 with one of advocates who can advise and help, please call 01902 96228 or fill in the online form below to request a callback.