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Five Things You Should Know Before Creating Your Maternity Leave Plan

21/03/2017 14:35 GMT | Updated 21/03/2017 14:35 GMT

Despite the excitement around having a baby, in reality there is a lot of planning that comes with it that can seem daunting and stressful. When planning to take time off work, you want to make sure you create a plan that is best for you and your employer and make the most of the options available to you. Here, I have put together a list of the five things you should know before you create your maternity leave plan.

1. Know your rights

It's important that you understand what you are entitled to, in order to create the best plan for you. All pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, regardless of how long they have worked for a company. Additionally, employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for the first 39 weeks of their leave, if they have been continuously employed by the same company for at least 26 weeks. For the first six weeks you will get paid 90% of your salary, and for the remaining 33 weeks you will get either £139.80 a week or 90%, depending on which one is lower.

Your eligibility for maternity leave and pay is dependent on you giving the correct notice, which is at least 15 weeks before your due date for maternity leave.

You are also entitled to Keep in Touch (KIT) days. These are intended to help you keep in contact with the team and ease your return to work. They are completely voluntary and your employer cannot insist on you taking them. You can choose to take up to 10 KIT days and you are entitled to your usual rate of pay when you do so.

2. Your company's policy

Employers may offer their own maternity leave scheme and naturally, different companies will have different policies in place. Usually these schemes and policies offer added benefits on top of your official entitlement.

Speak to your HR department or look through your handbook to find out exactly what you are going to be offered.

3. Return to work options

Being able to work flexibly can make the transition of being a new mum returning to work a smoother process, and since 2014 - when the government introduced a policy that gives every employee the legal right to request flexible working - the option to work flexibly has become more viable.

There are many different ways of working flexibly other than just staying at home - from working part-time, to job sharing, to changing the hours you work during the day. Find out which approach works best for you and make the request in time for your boss to consider it. Employers should make a decision within three months of your request unless agreed otherwise with you.

4. Paternity Leave

Fathers, civil partners and partners of either sex are entitled to paternity leave if they live with the mother or the main career and are responsible for bringing up the child. Paternity leave is two weeks and it must be taken within the first 56 days of having the child. Additionally, you can get time off to accompany the mother to two antenatal appointments during the pregnancy.

When taking paternity leave, fathers' employment rights are protected.

5. Shared Parental Leave

Since the 5th Of April 2015 fathers and partners can now get Shared Parental Leave, meaning they can take the remainder 50 weeks of maternity leave that the mother has not taken.

To be eligible one parent must have been employed for at least 26 weeks at the same company by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due. The other parent must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date and have earned at least £30 a week in 13 of the 66 weeks.

Mothers must still take the mandatory 2 weeks of maternity leave and fathers are still entitled to two weeks. It is then up to them how they will share the remaining 50 weeks and there is a lot of flexibility with the choice of being able to take leave in blocks rather than all at once.

There is a lot of planning that comes with having a baby, especially when you are a working woman and it can be stressful. Ultimately it's about having all the information available to you and knowing your options that will help you create the right plan for you, so you can enjoy motherhood and return to work seamlessly.