Despite maternity leave forming a critical part of every Employment contract, fresh research only reinforces what we already suspected: in 2017, around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant (where others in their workplace were not) or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.
These figures do not come as news - rather, they underline an issue that has persistently prevented mothers from comfortably slipping back into their careers, following childbirth.
While the news of a pregnancy may be cause for a celebration, there’s no denying that for most companies, it presents a challenge. Big smiles and congratulations may be in order, but it’s only natural for Employers to wonder how the company will cope in the months to come.
Handling maternity leave in the right way is essential in setting the tone for the women of your workforce. Understanding the rights of your staff and building an appropriate plan of action will allow the company to operate more efficiently and put pregnant Employees at ease. So, where do you start?
Have a written policy
In case you weren’t already aware, the majority of working women in the UK are entitled to one year’s maternity leave from work. This can begin any time from the 11th week prior to their due date and consists of 26 weeks’ Ordinary Maternity Leave followed by 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave.
By law, all women must take at least two weeks off work following the birth of their child. Not all Employees automatically qualify for statutory maternity pay, though most full-time workers will be eligible for 39 weeks of SMP. For the first 6 weeks, SMP should be 90% of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax. In the remaining 33, they should receive £145.18 or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower).
Rules surrounding statutory leave and pay should be clearly stated within Employment contracts; they should leave no room for confusion or assumption. When putting together a written policy, consider what type of benefits, if any, you will offer: e.g. flexible working upon their return, relief of manual labour?
One way to determine your policy is to speak to staff who have already had children, to determine their needs during this time. Of course, a written policy will naturally go out the window if complications within the pregnancy should arise. If your Employee finds themselves in this difficult situation, regular communication is critical in planning your next steps.
Plan in advance
Don’t wait until an Employee is in your office revealing the news of her pregnancy, to determine a contingency plan for her workload and responsibilities. It may be difficult to plan in advance, but it’s absolutely essential if you don’t want an entire team to crumble because one person is at home with their new baby.
It doesn’t mean you have to pre-empt every pregnancy of course; you simply have to consider whether or not others will be able to share her workload, or whether a Temporary member of staff needs to be brought in. This is where a strong talent network pays off: instead of desperately searching for a flower in a field of weeds, you already know where to look, to secure maternity cover for a skills gap in the department.
Create a positive environment
All too often, women are made to feel as though their statutory time off is a one-way ticket out of the working world.
Rather than supporting their female colleagues, many male Employees are still guilty of treating working mothers differently, claiming their work life and family life are incompatible or even dismissing them as uncommitted. It’s this kind of behaviour that must be eradicated, in order to promote a positive working environment for all staff, no matter their parental status.
Training in this area may be necessary; your priority is to create a workplace that makes pregnant staff as well as returning mothers feel welcome and accepted, as part of the team.
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