Where an employee has been absent on maternity leave must they return to work for a particular period of time before qualifying for another period of maternity leave and pay?

No. An employee will be entitled to another period of maternity leave, even if they become pregnant again while on maternity leave. Depending on when the second baby is due this could mean that they return to work for a short period of time before starting their second period of maternity leave. Alternatively, they might not have to return to work at all. This is more likely to be the case if the employee extends their absence by taking a period of parental leave following on immediately after their maternity leave or has some accrued holiday to use up.

The employee will not necessarily be entitled to statutory maternity pay during the second period of maternity leave. This is because to qualify for statutory maternity pay their average weekly earnings during the eight weeks up to and including the qualifying week must be at least the lower earnings limit for national insurance contributions.