Maternity leave is probably one of the more common situations that can arise in the workplace, and yet some managers get quite anxious about it. 😲
As much as an employer is likely to be happy and excited for their employee when she tells them she’s pregnant, sometimes concerns over the impact on the business, as well as not knowing enough about maternity rights, can lead some employers to say or do the wrong things. ❌
👉 Here I’ll explain step by step what your responsibilities are, what your pregnant employee’s rights are, and how you can manage the situation so that you stay compliant with employment law, and your employee continues to feel valued.
What NOT to say when your employee tells you her news
Be aware that as excited as your employee is likely to be with her news, she might also be nervous to share it with you and her colleagues. 👶
This isn’t the time to be asking questions about how long she intends to take off and if she intends to come back, so just respond to her news by conveying your happiness for her. Schedule a time to meet properly to go through your maternity policy with her.
Familiarise yourself with maternity rights and your responsibilities
Look into what your company offers in terms of maternity pay; either an enhanced amount, or the legal minimum requirement, as well as the legal maternity leave entitlement and other rights pregnant women and those on maternity leave are granted. If you don’t have a company maternity policy, you can check www.gov.uk or www.acas.org.uk for up-to-date information on rights and responsibilities. There are occasional changes to maternity rights, and the statutory maternity pay amount usually increases every April, so it’s always a good idea to double check the current entitlements.
What to cover when you meet with your pregnant employee 🤰🏼
When you meet, start off by asking how they are and then explain your policy and her entitlements.
It might be tempting to want to know what your employee’s plans are. It’s not your place to ask though, particularly not at this early stage. So, don’t ask if your employee is coming back to work after her maternity leave, just assume she is. Unless she tells you otherwise, also assume at this stage that she will take the full 52 weeks’ entitlement to maternity leave.
Don’t preempt questions about whether she’ll want to reduce her hours when she returns to work. Your employee will raise this with you, if this is what she wants, when she’s ready. If she does raise an interest in working part-time you can explain to her about her right to request a flexible working arrangement. (As an employer, you have a duty to give serious consideration to flexible working proposals).
It’s also a good idea to discuss at this stage when and how the employee wants her news to be communicated to her colleagues and clients.
✉️ Ask your employee to give you her MatB1 form when she’s been given it by her midwife. If the employee’s growing bump isn’t enough, the MatB1 is formal confirmation that the woman is indeed pregnant, and it states her due date. Once you have this, and you’ve discussed and agreed the maternity leave start and end dates, you can write to your employee confirming the details of her maternity leave and pay.
Your health and safety responsibilities
As an employer, you have a responsibility to make sure that the job your employee does is not going to jeopardise her health and safety or that of her unborn baby. So, carry out a pregnancy risk assessment without unnecessary delay that considers all the tasks and duties that make up the employee’s job.
Potential risks could include heavy lifting or carrying, standing for long periods of time, limited opportunities for rest breaks, working alone, travelling long distances for work and working at night. You have a ‘duty of care’, which means that you might need to make what’s known as ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the employee’s role to minimise any risks. It could mean giving your employee more frequent rest breaks, allowing her to sit rather than expecting her to stand, or finding her a more suitable chair. 🪑
What to think about when planning the maternity cover
One of the biggest areas of concern for you might be how you’re going to cover the employee’s work whilst she’s on maternity leave. This needn’t be a headache. You have a few options. You could split the employee’s work between other colleagues in the same team, or you could hire an agency temp or hire an employee on a fixed-term contract. Consider whether you will need a handover period between the employee and the person who is providing cover.
Additional rights that pregnant women have 💖
Legally there are certain rights given to pregnant women and those on maternity leave:
- They are protected in law from unfair treatment and discrimination by their employer due to them either being pregnant or on maternity leave.
- A woman has the right to return to her current role, or ‘a suitable alternative’. This basically means a similar job, with the same terms and conditions.
- You mustn’t select a woman for redundancy on the basis of her being pregnant or on maternity leave.
- Any time off sick that is related to her pregnancy, should be kept separate from any other sickness absence records.
- Pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable, paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments.
- A woman on maternity leave is entitled to take up to ten paid ‘keeping in touch days’. These are days that the employee can come back into work, during her maternity leave, perhaps to join her colleagues for an away day, take part in training, attend strategy meetings, or just to do her normal tasks and duties for the day. Keeping in touch days should be paid at the employee’s normal rate of pay. They’re completely voluntary so the employee doesn’t have to take them.
- Whilst she is on maternity leave, your employee will be entitled to her normal terms and conditions, except her salary. So, this will include annual leave, which she will accrue during the leave, and pension contributions if she was paying into a company pension before her maternity leave started. Although annual leave is accrued during the maternity leave, it cannot be taken during the leave, so it is often tacked on at the beginning and end of the maternity.
Maternity leave needn’t be scary to manage, so I hope this information is helpful if one of your employees becomes pregnant.
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