The question of how to deal with the holiday entitlement of women who are on maternity leave is one that worries employers.
The difficulty comes from the fact that many women will be on maternity leave for 12 months and therefore accrue a full year’s paid leave; however, the likelihood of their maternity leave exactly mirroring the employer’s holiday year is very small. In other words, the majority of women on maternity leave will have an amount of holiday accrued which they cannot take at the end of the company's holiday year.
Maternity leave differs from sickness absence in this regard because if a woman takes “holiday” whilst on maternity leave, it counts as a return to work and therefore she will lose her entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay.
As is so often the case, the best means of dealing with this situation is, first, to make sure that your maternity policy sets out clearly how you will treat holiday accrual during maternity leave and, secondly, to discuss it with the employee.
For example, you may decide to allow women on maternity leave to carry over their holiday accrual to the next holiday year. You may decide to calculate what holiday a pregnant employee will accrue for the rest of the holiday year and allow them to take it before they start their maternity leave.
The key is to make that both you and your employee know in advance what’s going to happen.