Maternity and adoption leave made easy – advice for managers

Depending on the nature of your business, more generous maternity and adoption policies may be a powerful way to recruit and retain the best staff

If you are the type of manager who goes into a blue funk whenever a member of staff announces that they are pregnant or planning to adopt, sadly we have to 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, do not risk only employing 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 52 weeks of maternity or adoption leave, and it can start 11 weeks before the expected date of childbirth or at the point of matching. The amount they take is their choice, but there is a mandatory two weeks’ leave immediately after the baby is born, four weeks if the mother works in a factory. How are you going to cover this period, and the training and handover period as well?
As during this time your employee’s employment rights are protected, they can return to exactly the same job after six months’ leave. So do not give their role away! Most employers will seek to have cover provided on a fixed-term contract for six months, with the option to extend to a year. 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, and you must do a pregnancy risk assessment and follow any advice given. Some roles that, 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 shared parental leave? 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.
Many staff 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 really cannot accommodate it then you are entitled to refuse.
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.
The HR Dept offers a retained advice line which is perfect for handling long-term events such as maternity. For more information, give us a call on 0131 297 7545.

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Ian heads up the HR Dept Edinburgh & the Lothians team. The HR Dept specialises in helping SMEs with everything to with employment, through a local and personal service delivering practical and pragmatic advice and support. With nearly 30 years HR experience, Ian has a wealth of experience in helping businesses to ensure success through their people, be legally compliant and handle tricky people issues. As a business owner himself, Ian understands the challenges that come with running and growing a business. He is known for his ability to explain complex concepts simply and to make learning fun and enjoyable.