How to support your employees through maternity leave

Published · 3 min read

Once you’ve been told that one of your employees is expecting a baby, you’ll be hit with a range of emotions. It’s not that dissimilar to finding out that you’re expecting a child yourself.

First, you’re excited and pleased for your employee. But then you recognise that there’s a lot of work to be done to make the maternity leave process as smooth as possible – for your employee, yourself and the rest of your business.

With an effective process in place, you can limit the impact of an employee going on maternity leave and become a valuable source of support for them in this eventful time. This article will help you cover the necessary steps to make this a reality.

Know your role

Firstly, make sure you’re familiar with your responsibilities and your employee’s rights. This means you’ll be in a great position to answer any questions they may have and offer useful guidance. The Maternity Protection Act 1994 and the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004. can help you with this.

Always carry out a risk assessment where new or expectant mothers may be exposed to working conditions that may harm the baby.

Antenatal rights

The expectant mother has the right to take time off with pay to attend any medical appointment related to her pregnancy.

For the second and subsequent appointments, it’s a good idea to ask for some evidence, such as an appointment card.

In addition to these medical appointments, she is also entitled to take time off, with pay, to attend all but the last three classes in a set of antenatal classes. Remember to record any of these absences for antenatal appointments on your employee’s absence record.

Maternity leave rights

When it comes to their actual maternity leave, your pregnant employee must give you at least four weeks’ written notice of her intention to take maternity leave and a medical certificate confirming the pregnancy due date.

You could create a maternity notification form and use it to record:

  • that she is pregnant
  • her expected week of childbirth (EWC, also known as ‘expected week of confinement’)
  • the date when she intends to begin her maternity leave.

All pregnant employees, regardless of their length of service, are entitled to a minimum of 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave and 16 weeks’ additional maternity leave. You don’t have to to pay employees while they are on maternity leave, unless the contract of employment says they should be paid.

The start of maternity leave

Your employee may start her maternity leave:

  • by notification at any time on or after the beginning of the 16th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • at any time on or after the beginning of the 16th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • on the first day after the beginning of the second week before the EWC
  • with the birth of the child.

Expectant mothers are not allowed to work any closer than two weeks before the due date and new mothers can’t work or return to work until four weeks after childbirth.

Keep in touch

It’s a good idea include those on maternity leave in all communications where your employee has agreed to this. Provided they agree, you can send newsletters, memos and job vacancy lists to your employee’s home address. You could also invite those on maternity leave to attend employer presentations if they occur during their absence.

Coming back to work

Your employee has to notify you in writing of their intention to return to work and the date she will return. If your employee wishes to return early from ordinary or additional maternity leave, she must give four weeks’ notice of her intention to return.

If your employee is too ill to return to work on the due date, manage the absence in the same way you would with any other employee on sick leave.

An employee who returns after maternity leave is entitled to return to the same job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, a suitable alternative on terms no less favourable than the terms of her original role.

Give careful consideration to any request to return to work on a part-time basis. A refusal could give rise to a gender discrimination claim and so must be justified on sound business grounds.

When it’s time for your employee to come back to work, make the process as easy for them as possible. Consider easing them back into the role with reduced hours to start with. A buddy system, where another employee helps them find their feet again for a few days, can also be a real help.

Don’t forget the dads

Fathers are entitled to paternity leave – in fact, new parents (other than the mother of the child) can take two weeks off as part of statutory paternity leave. This can be from employment or self-employment and applies to either the birth of a child or the adoption of one. The Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 has more information on this.

Final thoughts on support during maternity leave

With your help, your employee can enjoy a smooth maternity leave period as they focus on preparing for a new baby. Most critical is your role as someone who cares and who has the answers to their concerns.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and relevance.

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