A Small Business Guide to the Maternity Leave Letter

We look at what your employee's rights are and how to draft a maternity leave letter to ensure you and your staff member avoid any problems

A Small Business Guide to the Maternity Leave Letter

Maternity leave can be a real challenge for any employer, after all they’re facing the loss of what could be a crucial member of their team for potentially a year. Therefore, sweating the small stuff like ensuring the expectant mother understands their rights can sometimes seem like an extra unnecessary hassle, but it’s all part of the process set out in UK law, so there are no excuses.

With this in mind, we want to take a weight off your shoulders and give you a helping hand for drafting a model maternity leave letter. We can’t write it for you, after all we don’t know your staff and wouldn’t want you to sound like a robot, but we can give you a good structure to follow all the same.

An employee’s maternity leave rights

Once they have informed you of the pregnancy (they have to do this at least 15 weeks before the due date), make sure to congratulate your staff member on their pregnancy, and then let them know what you are going to set out in the letter.

After you’ve done this, it’s straight into their entitlements. All pregnant employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks off, with 26 of those weeks being ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and the other 26 weeks being ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve worked for you, what hours they work, or what they earn, all staff get the same entitlement – as long as they’ve let you know 15 weeks or more before the expected due date as mentioned above.

When agreeing the date when the maternity leave will start, it’s worth noting that the earliest they can start is 11 weeks prior to their due date. So if they’ve given you the minimum notice of 15 weeks, they will have at least one month left to work. However, pregnant employees are well within their rights to take annual leave or even sick leave before the 11 week mark, should they feel they aren’t up to working. And remember, you can’t allow staff to work for a two week period before their expected due date.

You should include the employee’s chosen start date as agreed with you in the letter, mentioning that should they wish to change the date they should let you know if possible 28 days before the proposed start date or 28 days before their original leave date, whichever one is sooner. This helps to make life that bit easier for you should they need to leave earlier or later than planned.

When on maternity leave, employees are also entitled to work up to 11 days without losing their maternity pay. Therefore, you may want to address these ‘Keep In Touch’ days at this point in the letter. It’s not compulsory for them to attend work, and you can’t make it so, however it may be beneficial to your small business to keep them up to date with developments in the company so it’s worth encouraging the staff member to feel like they can attend meetings or come in occasionally.

How much to pay an employee on maternity leave

Your maternity leave letter is now taking shape, so let’s head on to the section regarding their statutory pay.

When notified of a pregnancy, you should look into the pregnant staff member’s hours and length of service to determine whether they are eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, as this changes the next section of the letter along two lines.

To qualify the employee must:

  • be earning over £111 per week
  • have given the correct notice to you
  • have provided an MATB1 form, or medical confirmation of the pregnancy
  • have worked for you continuously for up to 26 weeks, up to the 15th week before the expected week of birth

If upon reading these criteria you spot that they are eligible, you will need to set out how much they can expect in the letter. Statutory pay is set at 90% of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by a lesser flat rate of her average weekly earnings or SMP (£139.58 per week as of April 2015).

If, on the other hand, the staff member is not eligible then you need to inform them of this in writing. In this case you should point them to information on maternity allowance available from the government. You will also need to provide the employee with an SMP1 form.

Final notes to include a maternity letter…

Finally, it is worth covering your duty of care to the employee in the letter as well. This will involve undertaking regular risk assessments, ideally every eight weeks, to ensure that any and all hazards that could be harmful to the expectant mother or her child are addressed.

So there you have it, all the information you need to draft a full maternity leave letter to your pregnant employee. But remember, your responsibility does not end with this letter; during maternity leave an employee is still entitled to all the benefits of their normal terms of employment, including salary increases, full benefits such as holiday accrual or use of a company car, or anything else that was agreed as part of their contract. It’s easy to forget, but can land you in hot water!

Kirsty Senior is co-founder and director of citrusHR, the HR service taking a fresh approach to HR for small business and charities in the UK

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