When an employee (you) takes leave for pregnancy, you take maternity leave. Employees on maternity leave (or ‘maternity’ for short) are usually eligible for maternity pay–39 weeks of it in some cases.

Now, there’s some great news for those of you on maternity leave: April 1 this year saw Statutory Maternity Pay in the United Kingdom rise. For the first 6 weeks of maternity pay, you’ll get 90% of your average weekly earnings.

For the remaining 33 weeks, while watching your newborn slowly become aware of the world, you’ll receive £145.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever of these is the lower figure).

Your employer pays your Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP, we like abbreviations around here, right?) just like they would pay your normal wages (for many of you, that’s weekly, fortnightly, or monthly).

Uh oh…does this mean that tax and National Insurance deductions occur?

Afraid so, yes. But you will still be able to win when you’re on your weekly food shop if you know how.

Can my boss fire me for getting pregnant because they don’t want to pay me maternity pay?

Heck no! What do you think this is, the seventies?

-Time for a quick history lesson.-

While the UK government of 1933 did permit women the right to take maternity leave, women had no protection from dismissal due to maternity leave until 1975. You can thank the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 for the slightly better UK of 1975–2010.

After this, it was in 2010 when the Equality Act 2010 introduced legislation that directly prevents discrimination and/or unfair dismissal due to pregnancy.

-End of quick history lesson.-

When do I start receiving SMP?

Statutory Maternity Pay normally begins when you take your maternity leave.

However, it’ll start automatically if you’re off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before your baby is due.

How do I qualify for SMP?

Well, obviously you need to provide your employer with proof that you’re pregnant. That’s the first thing.

After that, you need to:

  • Earn on average at least £116 per week.
  • Give the correct notice for when the baby is due to arrive and when you would be off work.
  • Have worked for your employer ‘continuously’ for at least 26 weeks, continuing into the ‘qualifying week’.

Let’s break down some of that jargon.

In this case, continuously means continuous employment, and it’s the time you spend working for an employer without a break.

Obviously time off such as annual leave, sickness, and vitally, maternity don’t break the continuity.

The qualifying week refers to the 15th week before your expected week of childbirth. Finally a purpose for that calendar hanging in your kitchen, right?

What about if I’m an agency worker?

No problem. Agency workers also receive maternity pay if they meet the same criteria.

You have to prove you’ve been in continuous employment, or engagement with the agency, for 26 weeks by the qualifying week.

Taking annual leave or sickness doesn’t break the continuity for agency workers either.

In addition, you can still receive Statutory Maternity Pay if your baby is born early, and/or dies after being born, or is stillborn after the start of week 24 of the pregnancy.