Adding annual leave or parental leave to maternity leave, illness at the end of maternity leave
Can I delay my return to work so that I am off for more than 52 weeks?
It is possible to take parental leave (unpaid) at the end of your maternity leave, provided your employer agrees. You can complain to an industrial tribunal if your employer unreasonably postpones or prevents you from taking parental leave. You can usually only take parental leave in full weeks rather than days, unless your employer agrees. Parental leave is not the same as shared parental leave. Further information is available on the NI Direct website
Refusal to allow you to take parental leave would be discrimination, but only if the reason for the refusal was because of your maternity leave or because of a protected characteristic, for example if you were refused because you are a woman, and a man in the same circumstances would have been allowed to take parental leave.
Can I add my annual leave to the end of my maternity leave?
Yes, you can add your annual leave to the end of your maternity leave if your employer agrees. You build up all annual leave entitlements when you are on maternity leave.
You should agree with your employer when you will take this annual leave, which may be before you go on maternity leave, at the end of your maternity leave or later in the year. You must be allowed to carry over any unused part of your statutory leave entitlement of 28 days (which includes bank holidays).
The law is not clear if your contract says you are entitled to more than 28 days (which includes bank holidays) and you should take advice if that applies to you.
Can I use my annual leave to return to work on a part-time basis for a short while?
Yes, if your employer agrees. However, there is no legal right to do this and you should discuss with your employer how this would work.
You must be allowed to carry over any unused part of your statutory leave entitlement of 28 days (which includes bank holidays). The law is not clear if your contract says you are entitled to more than 28 days (including bank holidays) and you should take advice if that applies to you.
What happens if I am ill at the end of my maternity leave and cannot return to work?
If you are ill you are entitled to take sick leave in the normal way at the end of any period of maternity, paternity, adoption, or shared parental leave. You should follow the normal sickness procedures. You are counted as being back at work (and on sick leave) if you cannot return to work because of illness.
You must be treated like any other employee who has not been on maternity leave, which includes receiving any contractual sick pay. If you are treated unfavourably because you were on maternity leave, for example, by being told you cannot have any sick pay because you were on maternity leave, this would be maternity discrimination.
Can I be dismissed because of postnatal depression that continues after the end of my maternity leave?
If you are off sick after you return from maternity leave, even if the illness is related to pregnancy or the birth, you do not have the same protection from discrimination as you did when pregnant.
If you are off sick for a long period, your employer can take disciplinary action against you and ultimately dismiss you provided they follow a fair procedure. Your employer must not take any account of any pregnancy-related sickness during your protected period or absence on maternity leave when deciding what action to take. However, your employer can take into account any illness outside the protected period even if it is pregnancy-related illness.
You can find out more about the protected period in the Equality Commission’s publication: