Your rights on returning to work after having a baby

Published date
On Mother’s Day 2021 I was feeling totally overwhelmed. My baby twins were a week old, and I was exhausted from learning how to look after two tiny people. Everything about my daily life had been turned upside down, and my own identity had dramatically shifted too. The last thing on my mind was what it would feel like returning to work.

Over the last year I’ve met lots of other new mums at local classes and playgroups. The conversation usually starts with the obligatory introductory questions about the baby - “how old are they?”, “how are they sleeping?”, “have you started solids yet?”. Then you remember that it’s only polite to show an interest in the mum you’re speaking to as well as their baby.  

You talk about your job – how it’s a part of your identity and that you miss regular ‘adult conversation’. But when you mention returning to work after maternity leave a look of concern pass over some mums’ faces. There’s a lot to think about and we don’t always know what we’re entitled to. Here are just some of the questions I’ve discussed with my new mum friends over the last year. 

Will I have to stop breastfeeding when I go back to work?  

Returning to work shouldn’t be a reason to stop breastfeeding. And the Equality Act 2010 says that it's unlawful for a workplace to discriminate against a woman because she's breastfeeding. Under health and safety legislation, your employer is required to provide you with adequate rest facilities and to ensure that you and your baby are not exposed to particular risks in the workplace.  

There is no statutory right to time off to express milk or breastfeed a baby in the workplace or to facilities for expressing and storing milk. However, many employers will offer this if you ask or will allow you time off to go home to feed or express. If your employer refuses to accommodate your needs as a breastfeeding mother, you should speak to your union representative or seek legal advice as you may be able to claim sex discrimination. 

Not a member of a union yet? Join a union today 

If you’re still on maternity leave and thinking of joining a union you may be able to get discounted or free membership  

What if I have health and safety concerns about returning to my workplace? 

There are very specific risks in the workplace for women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth.  These risks are preventable, and your workplace must adhere to the guidance so that you don’t have to lift, twist, spend a long time sitting or standing, or that you aren’t exposed to dangerous chemicals, excessive heat, infectious diseases (including Covid-19), stress, violence or excessive noise.   

Read our pregnancy guidelines for health and safety reps 

How do I ask about flexible working when I return to work?  

You may wish to reduce or vary your working hours to accommodate your childcare responsibilities. All employees with 26 weeks or more service with their employer have the right to request flexible working. Your employer has a duty to consider a request reasonably. 

They can say no to your request for one of eight business reasons. If your employer rejects your request, you may be able to claim indirect sex discrimination. Mothers are more likely to be put at a disadvantage by a requirement to work long or fixed hours. 

A recent TUC survey found that half of working mums don’t get the flexibility they ask for.

We think that’s wrong. If you agree, sign our petition asking for stronger legal rights to flexible working.  

Can I change the dates of my maternity leave once I’ve started it?  

To notify your employer that you won’t be using your full maternity entitlement, you must give them written notice at least eight weeks before the date you intend it to end. This is called a ‘curtailment notice’. 

If you give your employer a curtailment notice before the birth but you change your mind and decide you want more maternity leave, you can withdraw the curtailment notice within six weeks of the birth. 

Do I have to do KIT days? 

No, Keeping In Touch days are entirely voluntary. Your employer cannot make you do any work during your leave. You can work for up to ten ‘Keeping in Touch’ (KIT) days during your maternity or adoption leave without this bringing your maternity leave to an end. KIT days could be used for you to attend a training day, staff meeting or do a full day’s work. Anything you do on a KIT Day will count as a full day’s work, even if you only attended a meeting for a couple of hours or did a half day’s work. 

Will I miss out on a promotion because I’m on maternity leave?  

Whilst on maternity leave your employer must not discriminate against you because you are taking leave. For example, they must let you know about promotion opportunities that arise and they must make sure you are properly informed and fairly treated during any redundancy or restructuring exercise that affects you. 

Read our full guide on Leave and Pay for Mothers 

Can my employer change my job while I’m on maternity leave?  

If you return after 26 weeks or less maternity leave (or a combination of maternity leave and Shared Parental Leave), you have the right to return to the same job you had before you went on leave. 

If you return to work after more than 26 weeks’ leave (or a combination of maternity leave and Shared Parental Leave), you have the right to return to the same job unless your employer can show that it was not reasonably practicable to have kept the job open for you. In this case you are entitled to return to a suitable and appropriate job on terms and conditions that are not less favourable. 

What happens when I’m back at work and my baby is sick?  

As a working parent you have a statutory right to time off work for a number of situations, including if your child is ill. The time off doesn’t have to be paid. However, your employer may agree to pay it or they may provide a certain amount of paid carer’s leave or compassionate leave that can be used in these circumstances.  

Wales TUC is campaigning for 10 days’ paid carer’s leave for all workers from their first day in the job. 

Who can help me talk to my employer about returning to work after having a baby?  

If you’re in a union, they can help you talk to your employer about anything you’re concerned about.  If you’re not in a union, you can find the right union for you using our union finder tool.  

Trade unions have a proud history of campaigning to make workplaces safer for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Unions have also been instrumental in challenging employers, ensuring pregnant and breastfeeding women can remain in work supported, protected and safe.