Maternity leave demystified


Pregnant employees are strongly protected under existing South African labour law. There are no fewer than six pieces of legislation that require employers to not discriminate against pregnant and post-pregnant employees.

The basic conditions of the Employment Act entitles an employee to take four months’ unpaid maternity leave. This leave may start at any time from four weeks before the expected date of birth or when a doctor or the pregnant woman’s midwife certifies that leave is necessary for the health of the mother or the child. Provided that she can write, an employee must notify the employer in writing of the date on which the maternity leave will commence.

In South Africa, the employer has no obligation to pay an employee during her maternity leave. The employer’s only obligation is to reserve her position in the company and to allow for four consecutive months of maternity leave. The problem for most women is not the amount of maternity leave allowed, but the financial implications of not being paid for four months.


A woman may claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) if she has contributed to the fund for more than four months. The Fund pays a percentage of the wage/salary that she earned while she was contributing to the fund. Depending on her salary, she may claim between 30% and 58% of her salary during maternity leave. If you take maternity leave, you can only claim for up to 121 days.

Your rights

    • An employee may not work until six weeks after delivery, unless a doctor or midwife certifies that she is fit to do so. 
    • An employee who has a miscarriage during the last three months of pregnancy or bears a stillborn child is also entitled to six weeks’ maternity leave. 
    • An employee nursing her child is not allowed to perform work that is hazardous to her or her child, or which requires her to be working a night shift. 
    • Employers should note that even when an employee who has already given birth is 100% well, the illness of the newborn baby entitles the employee to get time off to look after the child.

Share your experience about taking maternity leave below.

The University of Cape Town (Law@Work) Practical Labour Law course starts on 6 September 2010 and registrations close on 27 August 2010. For more information call Abby on 021 685 4775 or email or visit

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