If an employee on maternity leave has said to their employer that they may not take the full 52 weeks, can they return earlier than the end of their additional maternity leave?

Employees are entitled to a total of 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave. If an employee intends to return to work earlier than the end of additional maternity leave, they must inform their employer of this by giving not less than eight weeks' notice of the date on which they intend to return (reg.11 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3312)). There is no requirement under the legislation for the notice to be in writing, although employers should encourage employees to provide notice in writing to avoid any uncertainty.

If an employee indicates that they may not take the full 52 weeks, the employer should ask them to give formal notice of the date on which they intend to return.

If an employee who has not given notice of an early return date attempts to return to work before the end of their additional maternity leave, the employer can require them to provide eight weeks' notice before they return (or require that they return at the end of the additional maternity leave period if this is less than eight weeks away). An employee who returns early without giving the correct notice is not entitled to be paid. However, the employer cannot insist on eight weeks' notice of an early return if it has failed to inform the employee of the date on which their additional maternity leave will end, on being informed of their intention to take maternity leave.