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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Maternity leave and maternity cover

What you need to know


Preparing for maternity leave and maternity cover

In preparing for my employee’s maternity leave, when can I start the handover period?

This will largely depend on the job involved and when the employee wants to go on maternity leave. It is good practice for the handover to take place in good time but you must not remove your employee’s responsibilities before it is necessary for the handover – this could be pregnancy discrimination.

Can I ask my employee if she will be returning to work and when?

You can ask if she has any thoughts of how long she wants to take off, but you must not put any pressure on her to make an early decision before she is ready. You must assume that she will return to work after 52 weeks unless she gives you notice that she wants to return earlier.

How should I go about providing maternity cover?

You will need to assess your business needs. Possible options are:

  • Recruiting a temporary replacement (maternity cover).
  • Temporarily rearranging your business so that her role is performed by existing members of staff.
  • Recruiting a permanent employee to cover the role for the maternity period, but making it clear that the woman on leave can return to that role after her leave.

Can I appoint someone on a permanent contract to cover the maternity leave period?

Yes, but you must not do so with a view to the person employed to cover the maternity leave period taking over the pregnant employee’s responsibilities on a permanent basis. A pregnant employee is usually, depending on the number of weeks she was off, entitled to return to the same job after her maternity leave. Similar rules apply to returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave.

A pregnant employee is working on an important project. Can I remove her from this work to ensure continuity?

You must not remove a pregnant employee from her job unless she agrees. To change an employee’s job because she is pregnant, and not for a health and safety reason, or by agreement with her, is likely to be pregnancy discrimination.

I'm concerned that an employee's partner is about to give birth and they won't be able to travel on a job. What can I do?

Protection from pregnancy discrimination is only for women who are pregnant. However, the law says that a person can be protected from associative discrimination. That is when a person is treated less favourably because of their association with a person with a particular characteristic that is protected from discrimination by law, for example, where they are treated less favourably because they are caring for their disabled child. It is not clear whether this would apply in the case of pregnancy discrimination, but it may do. If for example, you took a man's responsibilities away in these circumstances it may be unlawful sex discrimination if you would not have treated a woman in the same way.
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