Maternity leave is a period of time taken off work by an expectant mother to cover the birth of her child, and this may be with pay. The leave period commences some time before the birth and ends some weeks afterwards, when the mother returns to work.
Article 8 of Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding (OJ L348/1) stipulates: ‘Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that [such] workers… are entitled to a continuous period of maternity leave of at least 14 weeks allocated before and/or after confinement in accordance with national legislation and/or practice’. The maternity leave must include compulsory leave of at least two weeks allocated before and/or after the birth in accordance with national legislation and/or practice.
Women workers are protected against dismissal during the ‘period from the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of the maternity leave referred to in Article 8(1), save in exceptional circumstances not connected with their condition which are permitted under national legislation and/or practice…’ (Article 10(1)).