10 FAQs on maternity leave


You’re a working mom-to-be and your life is about to change radically. You have an exciting but also enormously challenging time ahead of you, which means that you need to be well prepared.

In South Africa, pregnant workers are protected by the law. There is specific legislation that regulates maternity leave and also protects women from discrimination related to pregnancy. These are found in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Constitution of South Africa (Section 9 (3)).

Here's some basics you should know.

When should I notify my employer?
Legally, you are obliged to give four weeks written notice. But be sensible: the earlier the better. Tell your employer well in advance about your pregnancy and expected delivery date. Contact your HR department and find out exactly how maternity leave works in your company. This will give both you and your manager the chance to get a proper plan in place for while you’re away.

How will my department cope without me?
It’s your manager’s responsibility to redistribute your tasks among your colleagues or appoint a temporary replacement. However, being a proactive employee is always a good thing – you could present your manager with a proposal on how your work could be reassigned during your absence. Having a maternity leave plan ready will also reassure the boss that you plan to return to work after your baby has been born.

Would I have to jump straight back in when I’m back at work, or could I ask for less strenuous work for a while?
An employee can insist on less strenuous work if she can prove that her present job negatively affects her or her child’s health, if she works a night shift, and if it is practical for her employer. This is complex, so refer to the Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees During Pregnancy and After the Birth of a Child.

Should I try and do work from home while on maternity leave?
This is probably a question asked by first-time moms-to-be who haven’t been through the utter exhaustion of having a baby in the house. You might wish for a sleepy little angel, but there’s a chance that you could have a colicky baby, or one with nocturnal habits. The answer is simple. Rest whenever you possibly can!

How much maternity leave am I legally entitled to? 
In South Africa, you have a right to four consecutive months of maternity leave.  Sadly, in this country your employer is not legally obliged to pay you. Women can, however, claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) - visit your nearest labour centre with your ID book or passport, banking details and a doctor’s certificate. If you’re physically unable to do so, you can send somebody on your behalf.

Can my baby’s father get paternity leave?
Fathers are entitled to three days’ family responsibility leave per year, and only if they have been working for four months, and for more than four days per week.

How long before the birth can I leave work?
You can leave work anytime from at least four weeks before your baby is born. Depending on your medical condition, you could leave earlier if necessary. You could also choose to work for as long as you want, up to the baby’s birth. Decide on a date well in advance, for the sake of both yourself and your employer.

How long after the birth do I have to return to work? 
New mothers can return six weeks after the birth of their baby. This could be earlier, if a doctor or midwife has given medical approval that she is fit to work again. 

What about a miscarriage or a stillborn child? 
Women who have miscarriages or give birth to stillborn babies in their third trimester are entitled to six weeks’ leave afterwards, regardless of whether they have already gone on maternity leave.

Will my job be safe while I’m away?
You are entitled to return to the job you left before going on maternity leave. It would be considered discriminatory to dismiss a woman for any reason related to her pregnancy.

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