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Returning to work at the end of maternity leave

Last updated: 9 Apr 2021

This article provides information on your rights and protections on returning to work after maternity leave. If you are not being given your old job back because your job is redundant, see our page on redundancy while pregnant, or on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

This article covers the following topics:

Giving notice of return to work

You do not need to give any notice of return if you are going back to work at the end of maternity leave. You can go to work on the day that you are due back, although ideally your employer should reach out to have a conversation about your return to work during your maternity leave.

Your employer should have written to you to confirm the date your maternity leave ends. If your employer hasn’t done this, and you haven’t given notice to return early, your maternity leave will end on the day after the end of the 52 week period.

If you want to return to work before the end of your maternity leave, you must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice to return. You can change your mind about returning to work early provided that you give at least 8 weeks’ notice before the date you intend to return or the date you are supposed to return, whichever is earliest.

Can my employer delay my return to work?

Ordinarily, no. You have a right to return to work on the date you choose, as long as you give proper notice.

If you return to work without giving notice, your employer is entitled to postpone your return for the full notice period (8 weeks). However, your employer cannot postpone your return beyond the date your maternity leave ends.

If your employer postpones your return date and you return to work anyway, you may not be entitled to be paid.

When you give your employer notice of maternity leave, your employer should write back to you to confirm your maternity leave start and end dates. You do not have to give notice of early return if your employer did not notify you of the date your maternity leave would end. In this case, your employer has no right to delay your return or refuse to pay you for returning early.

It is a good idea to agree with your employer the start and end dates of your maternity leave, and to keep in touch with them during your leave to discuss early return if you would like to return early. This is so your employer can prepare and make plans for your return, especially if they have organised maternity cover.

Right to return to your old job

Your right to return to your job depends on how much maternity leave you have taken.

Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML)

When you go back to work after OML, which is the first 26 weeks of maternity leave, you have the right to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions. Your terms and conditions of employment must be the same as, or not less favourable than, they would have been had you not been absent.

Additional Maternity Leave (AML)

When you go back to work after taking AML, which is the second 26 weeks of maternity leave, you have the right to return to your old job on the same terms and conditions, unless it is “not reasonably practicable”.

If it is not reasonably practicable to give you your old job back, your employer must offer you a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions that are not less favourable.

Consecutive periods of family leave

Your rights to return to your job may be different if you take consecutive periods of statutory family leave.

You have the right to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions if you return after:

  • Parental Leave of four weeks or less
  • OML plus Parental Leave of four weeks or less, taken either before or after the OML
  • Shared Parental Leave which combined with maternity leave amounts to less than 26 weeks

You have the right to return to your old job on the same terms and conditions, unless it is not reasonably practicable if you have taken:

  • Shared Parental Leave which when combined with maternity leave amounts to total leave of more than 26 weeks
  • Four weeks or more of Parental Leave
  • OML plus Parental Leave of four weeks or more
  • Shared Parental Leave which when combined with maternity leave amounts to total leave of more than 26 weeks
  • AML followed immediately by OML (in respect of another baby) or Parental Leave (of any length)

The same rights apply for Ordinary and Additional Adoption Leave as for maternity leave.

Note: If you return to work, even for a short period, your leave will not be treated as consecutive. You are also counted as back at work if you are on annual leave or sick leave.

When is it not reasonably practical to have your old job back?

It is very unusual for it to be “not reasonably practicable” to give you your job back unless your job is redundant.

Employers can reorganise the workplace from time to time. If a reorganisation has resulted in minor changes to your work it may still be considered the same job.

If your job has changed significantly or is less favourable in terms of salary, status, job security, location or hours you may have a claim for detrimental treatment, unfair dismissal and/or sex discrimination.

What is a suitable alternative role?

A job will be suitable if the terms and conditions are not substantially less favourable than your existing job. This includes your salary, status, job security, location or hours. Whether the job being offered is suitable will very much depend on the circumstances.

What to do if you are not given your old job

If you are not allowed to return to work after maternity leave or you are not given your old job back, or not given a suitable alternative job, you may have a claim for automatic unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. If this happens to you, you should seek further advice straight away.

If you are happy with the change, you can accept the new role. Otherwise, you can also consider taking the following steps:

  • Raise the issue with your employer: You should tell your employer that you are unhappy with the job you are being offered, and that you have a right to return to a suitable alternative job. You can explain to your employer why you feel the alternative job is not suitable, and what conditions would make it suitable. If informal conversations do not resolve the issue, you can raise a grievance using your employer’s grievance policy.
  • Accept the position and return to work under protest: You can return to work while you are still negotiating with your employer, but you should make it clear that you are working under protest. We have a template Letter of Protest that you can use.
  • Accept the position, and consider claiming unfair dismissal and sex discrimination: This option may be appropriate if you believe that your old job still exists, or was given to your maternity cover, or if your old job was made redundant, and you are being offered an unsuitable alternative. If you succeed in a claim you could be entitled to compensation for ongoing loss of earnings (the difference in pay between your old job and the new one) and an award for injury to feelings. If you are considering this option you should raise a grievance with your employer regarding your dismissal from your old job.
  • Decline the alternative job, resign from employment and claim constructive dismissal and sex discrimination: You can resign and claim constructive dismissal and sex discrimination the basis your employer has refused to give you your old job. If you do this you will be entitled to your notice pay and a statutory redundancy pay (as long as you have 2 or more years’ service and your job no longer exists or is no longer needed). If you succeed in your claim, you could recover compensation for injury to feelings and for loss of earnings following your resignation. However, constructive dismissal cases are difficult to win because you need to show that your employer’s actions were in breach of your employment contract and left you with no choice but to resign. It is not enough to show that your employer behaved unreasonably. You should seek advice before you take this step.

If you are considering bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal, you must begin the process to bring an Employment Tribunal claim within 3 months of the date of dismissal from your old job. If you are considering this option you should raise a grievance with your employer regarding your dismissal from your old job. You should seek advice before you submit a claim.

What to do if you want to return on flexible or reduced hours

Many new mothers want to return to work on a part-time or flexible basis, and many employers are happy to negotiate flexible terms with their employees. However, sometimes employers ask women returning to work from maternity leave to accept lower paid or lower status jobs in exchange for flexibility.

If you wish to change or reduce your working hours on your return to work, before you decide to take a lower paid or lower status role, you can stay in your role and make a statutory flexible working request. You do not have a right to change your hours, but if an employer unreasonably turns you down then you may have a claim. See our page on how do I ask to change my working hours?

A flexible working request can take up to three months to process, so ask as early as you can. There is more information about negotiating flexible working in our flexible working section.

Frequently asked questions

I’ve been refused my old job because of a reorganisation

Employers can reorganise the workplace from time to time. If a reorganisation has resulted in minor changes to your work it may still be considered the same job.

If your job has changed significantly or is less favourable in terms of salary, status, job security, location or hours you may have a claim for detrimental treatment, unfair dismissal and/or sex discrimination.

If your old job is redundant, you see our page on redundancy while pregnant, or on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

I’m being offered an alterative role that is lower in status and responsibilities

A job will be suitable if the terms and conditions are not substantially less favourable than your existing job. This includes your salary, status, job security, location or hours. Whether the job being offered is suitable will very much depend on the circumstances.

If you are being offered an alternative role that is not suitable because it is lower in status and responsibilities, you may have a claim for detrimental treatment, unfair dismissal and/or sex discrimination. You should seek advice and take the steps outlined above.

I want to return flexibly or part-time, but my employer has refused

Employees with more than 26 weeks’ service have a legal right to request flexible working. If you have not already made a formal request for flexible working, then you should do so.

If you have made a statutory request, and it was refused, you should appeal your employer’s decision and submit a grievance. If you have already appealed unsuccessfully, you should seek further advice and consider challenging your employer’s decision in an Employment Tribunal or through the ACAS arbitration service for flexible working.

Unfortunately, there is no right to return to work on a flexible or part-time basis after maternity leave. If your employer has legitimate business reasons for turning down your request, then your chances of succeeding will be low. You may have a claim against your employer if they have not properly dealt with your flexible working request, but be aware that an Employment Tribunal has limited ability to review an employer’s decision and potential awards of compensation are very low. You may also have a claim for indirect sex discrimination. See here for more information.

For more information, see our article on flexible working.

I want to return flexibly or part time, but my employer wants me to take a more junior role

Sometimes employers ask women returning to work from maternity leave to accept lower paid or lower status jobs in exchange for flexibility.

If you wish to change or reduce your working hours on your return to work, before you decide to take a lower paid or lower status role, you can stay in your role and make a statutory flexible working request. You do not have a right to change your hours, but if an employer unreasonably turns you down then you may have a claim. See our page on how do I ask to change my working hours?

If this happens to you, you can decline the offer of a more junior role and return to your previous job. Your employer is not obliged to agree to part-time or flexible working. If they have dealt with your request properly and have legitimate business reasons for declining your request, then your chances of succeeding in a claim against them are likely to be low. You may have a claim against your employer if they have not properly dealt with your flexible working request, but be aware that an Employment Tribunal has limited ability to review an employer’s decision and potential awards of compensation are very low. You may also have a claim for indirect sex discrimination. See here for more information. It is by no means certain that such a claim would succeed and this would very much depend on the circumstances.

If you do this you will be entitled to your notice pay and a statutory redundancy pay (as long as you have 2 or more years’ service and your job no longer exists or is no longer needed). If you succeed in your claim, you could recover compensation for injury to feelings and for loss of earnings following your resignation. However, constructive dismissal cases are difficult to win because you need to show that your employer’s actions were in breach of your employment contract and left you with no choice but to resign. It is not enough to show that your employer behaved unreasonably.

You should seek advice before you take this step.

My employer agreed to my part-time working request, but has removed my responsibilities

If you agree with your employer to return to work part-time, but your employer removes or reassigns your responsibiltiies (e.g., line management), you may have a claim under the Part-Time Workers Regulations. See here for more information. This claim would be brought on the basis that you have been subjected to a detriment and the reason for your demotion is because of the change to part-time.

The key question will be whether the difference in status is ‘justified. Your employer may be able to justify any less favourable treatment if it can show that the difference in treatment aims to achieve a legitimate aim and, broadly speaking, that it is an appropriate means of achieving that aim. For instance, if your employer can show that there are genuine business reasons why the other employees need a manager present on a full time basis and changing their manager to someone who is full time is an appropriate way of achieving this, then your claim is unlikely to succeed. However, there is a good chance your employer will be unable to show that a complete change in manager is a proportionate way of achieving its aims.

If you have not already appealed the outcome of your request to work part-time then you should do so, asking them to reconsider this aspect of the change.

I returned to work, and my employer has told me that my old job is redundant


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.