Maternity and adoption leave made easy

Thursday May 25, 2017

If you are the type of manager who goes into a tizzy whenever a member of staff announces that they are pregnant or planning to adopt, sadly we must admit you are not alone. More than 60% of new mothers claim they have suffered discrimination after having a child. Now, we know that for a small business, losing a team member for up to a year is difficult – note we said ‘difficult’ not ‘impossible’. But it can be made easier with good communication and planning.

Oh, and before you even think it, don’t risk employing only males or females past childbearing age! You will end up in a tribunal, and with adoption being of childbearing age or gender isn’t necessarily a marker for who may be requesting parental leave in your workplace.

First get the calendar out and start working backwards.  All your employees can have up to 26 weeks of maternity or adoption leave, as well as an additional 16 weeks’ unpaid leave. The amount they take is their choice, but at least 2 weeks have to be taken before the end of the week of your baby’s expected birth and at least 4 weeks after.  How are you going to cover this period, the training and handover period as well?

During this time your employee’s employment rights are protected, they can return to the same job, so don’t give their role away! Most employers will seek to have cover provided on a fixed-term contract. Recruitment takes time and the selected individual may not be unable to start straight away – so do allow for that.

Meanwhile your pregnant employee is allowed paid time off for antenatal visits, you must do a pregnancy risk assessment and follow any advice given. Some roles for example, involve heavy lifting are going to require more thought, but The HR Dept is always here to help with creative solutions.

By talking regularly, you will understand if they are planning to return to work and when. Maybe they want to take advantage of unpaid maternity leave or they might want to return to work earlier? Inviting them into the workplace to show-off their baby always works well. If not for you, the rest of the staff will love having a few cuddles!

But what about the return?

Can you imagine how scary this is for them? The employee has been through endless sleepless nights, had hormones charging through her body, and may well feel a little out of touch. This is where the ten “Keeping in Touch” days come into their own. During maternity or adoption leave you can invite the employee in to take part in training days or catch-up events and meetings. They can be paid for these without affecting their maternity or adoption leave pay, and most staff welcome them (although they do not have to take part in them). These are a fantastic way of easing the person back into work and keeping in touch with their colleagues and friends.

Many new parents will make a flexible working request. If they do, we would strongly recommend you seriously investigate whether you can make their plan work, or could there be a compromise solution? However, at the end of the day, if your business cannot accommodate it then you are entitled to refuse, but you mustn’t discount it out of hand.  There is an onus on the employer to show they genuinely considered it and documented the reasons for not granting the request.

There are also rights around breast-feeding and flexibility to accommodate this.

This blog has largely referred to statutory obligations. You can, of course, go beyond this and implement more generous policies. Depending on the nature of your business, it may be a powerful way to recruit and retain the best staff.

How you treat you employees in the short-term normally determines their long-term plans to stay with your business or seek a better place to work.  Not all benefits include more money, of course, money is important, but by being flexible, genuinely interested in your team’s welfare and well-being goes a very long way to earning you loyalty bonus points.

The best managers tend to realise that we are all human, most of us have children at some time in our lives.  Showing understanding, empathy and loyalty to your employees is a very powerful demonstration that you have an advanced caring workplace and gains trust.  If you can think how you would like someone to treat your own daughter, and you are on the right track!

The HR Dept offer a retained advice line which is perfect for handling long-term events like maternity leave. For more information, why not give us a call.

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