Taking Parental Leave and Returning to Work
Entitlement to Parental leave and pay
NHS employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity/parental leave regardless of the length of service. Employees that have worked continuously for the NHS for at least 12 months by the time they are 28 weeks pregnant, and intend to return to work for at least 3 months after maternity leave, are entitled to NHS occupational maternity leave (OMP). Employees that have worked continuously for one employer for 26 weeks by the time they are 24 weeks pregnant are entitled to statutory maternity pay (SMP). If you are entitled to both NHS OMP and SMP then your payment will be as follows:
- 8 weeks full pay
- 18 weeks half pay plus SMP
- 13 weeks SMP
- 13 weeks of unpaid leave
Maternity pay is based on the employee’s earnings during the 8 weeks prior to the 15th week before the week the baby is due (the qualifying period). You accrue annual leave during parental leave and this is taken at the end of parental leave (in addition to the 52 weeks of parental leave if you wish).
Preparing for Parental Leave
There are a few responsibilities of an employee when pregnant or planning to take parental leave. It is important to check your local policies (usually found on your Trust intranet) to ensure that you comply with any deadlines set. HR departments often suggest that employees tell their employers as soon as they are pregnant so that a risk assessment can be performed, and duties modified as appropriate. This is a personal choice but if you wish to avoid exposure to radiation during pregnancy then you may be forced to tell your boss very early on.
By the 15th week before the expected week of confinement or matching date, if adopted, employees must give their employer written notice of their intention to take parental leave and the planned start date. Pregnant women must also submit a completed MATB1 form by this date – these are signed by your midwife. Most HR departments also require you to complete a parental leave form. You can start maternity leave 11 weeks prior to your EDD and if you need to change the start date you should give at least 28 days’ notice (unless it is for health reasons). Shared parental leave is worth considering if you think it might work for your family. You should discuss this with your employer ahead of time.
You are eligible to attend any antenatal appointments or care as required during working time and it is advisable to give your department as much notice as possible for these. There is no fixed date at which you should stop on calls or out-of-hours work but some HR departments have a maximum gestation that they suggest. Essentially, it is up to you when you want to come off the on-call rota, and is an individual decision. Some HR departments request a letter from your doctor or midwife to confirm that this is in your best interests, but I think very few doctors/midwives will choose not to support their patient’s wishes.
Don’t rely on HR staff to inform you of all your rights and entitlements – they often do not know themselves. Check local policies carefully and if you are unsure, get further help such as from the BMA. Local colleagues who have recently been through the process are very useful sources of information. More information can be found at:
Working in surgery is very demanding at the best of times but is especially so when pregnant. All women experience pregnancy differently, and each pregnancy for the same woman can also be very different. Many trainees worry about giving a bad impression at work by needing to take time off or slow down but most bosses understand that this is temporary and reasonable. It is not a sign of weakness or poor commitment to specialty if you need to make adjustments for your pregnancy. It’s likely no one at work will notice or thank you for staying on the on-call rota a few weeks longer than you really felt comfortable with or assisting in that long laparotomy that you really wanted to ask a colleague to do instead; however, you will notice the difference in how you feel. Remember morning sickness is often exacerbated by tiredness (and also that ondansetron is the only anti-emetic that really works for it).
Supported Return to Training (SuppoRT)
All trainees returning to work after an absence of 3 or more months for any reason are entitled to enhanced support under the Supported Return To Training (SuppoRTT) program. Each Trust will have a SuppoRTT champion or team who can help you organise your return to work and access appropriate support. It is recommended that you contact them in advance of your planned absence and again 2-3 months before your return. Different deaneries and hospitals will have different policies and resources but the basic guidelines are set out by Heath Education England. The main points are:
- Trainees should be supernumerary for at least their first two weeks back at work and should not do any OOHs or on-call shifts during this time. This time is pro rata for LTFT so equates to the first 10 working days.
- If a trainee wishes to do some on-call during the first 10 shifts, they can in a supernumerary capacity but their total hours should not exceed the standard working hours (ie you should get compensatory time off from daytime working).
- Trainees should meet with their Educational Supervisor at least six weeks before their return to work and again at the end of the enhanced support period. This period can be extended if agreed with the Educational Supervisor, the trainee, and the SuppoRTT team.
Some deaneries offer further help in the form of courses, workshops, coaching, or mentoring.
You may be allowed a grace period on returning to work that is not counted towards your training time. This can be useful to take the pressure off as you get back up to speed after an absence. Not all deaneries/consortia offer this so it is worth enquiring before your parental leave starts if you think it might be useful for you.
You can find more information regarding SuppoRTT on your deanery website or from HEE:
Keeping In Touch (KIT) Days
KIT days allow a staff member on parental leave to undertake paid work or training to stay in touch with their workplace. You can take a maximum of 10 KIT days and they must be mutually agreed upon between the employee and employer. KIT days can be taken at almost any time during parental leave itself and the time can be used to do clinical work (usually under close supervision) or to take a course or other training. If you chose to take a KIT day during your accrued annual leave at the end of parental leave, you will not get paid twice but may be able to take a day off in lieu once back at work instead. It is advisable to agree on all the details including payment or lieu days in advance with your Educational Supervisor and HR.
If you are taking shared parental leave, you are entitled to SPLIT or “shared parental leave in touch” days. These are similar to KIT days but with a bigger allowance of 20 days.
More information on KIT and SPLIT days can be found on your deanery website or from the BMA:
Returning to work after parental leave is exciting and fulfilling for some and stressful and exhausting for others. For most people, it is a bit of both. Anything that you can do to make the first few weeks/months a bit easier is worth considering. This might take the form of roping in grandparent help, employing a nanny, partners taking shared parental leave, working less than full time, working full time… whatever works for you and your family. It is often hard to know what will be the best option until you try it, so don’t panic if things are not working – you can try something different. You may feel like you have forgotten everything you have ever known when you first go back but this will be short-lived and things will come back quickly when you get back into it. Frequent meetings with your educational or clinical supervisor can help to identify areas to focus on and discuss concerns or difficulties. If you can go back to the centre that you were in when you went on parental leave it can be useful – familiar faces and systems will make the start a bit smoother and having consultants that know what you are capable of can help give you extra confidence. The juggle of a demanding job and a small child can be a challenge so remember to take some time for self-care and do ask for help if you need it.