Managing Maternity Leave in a small business

Managing maternity leave is a challenge for all employers, but the prospect of a key team member being away for up to a year can be a particular concern for small businesses, especially as roles within small firms are often more diverse and this can prove problematic when trying to find a suitable replacement.

Does any of this sound familiar…

“I’m not fully up to speed on all of the employment rights that pregnant women, new mothers and new fathers have and I’m sure there can be serious legal consequences if I get it wrong.”

If it does, you’d be right. There are so many aspects of employment rights in respect of maternity leave and pay, flexible working requests, holiday entitlement, pension contributions, whether the employee keeps the mobile phone or company car, keeping in touch days etc, so it is definitely worth considering seeking professional help to make sure you have everything covered.

Or how about this…

“We’ll definitely need to get someone else in, but recruiting temporary cover inevitably involves additional costs and effort and we don’t know for sure if the employee will return after her maternity leave, what do we do then?” Or worst case scenario, we’ve been asked… “what if more than one employee falls pregnant at the same time, that’s a lot for us to cover”.

All of these things can cause a business owner concern and we can see why, however, as long as you plan ahead and it is well managed, maternity leave need not be a problem for your business.

Something we would most definitely advise though is to be supportive. Having a flexible approach to employment can help ensure that talented, experienced and productive employees remain with your business after the birth of their child.

You’ve heard the term fail to plan etc, well it really does apply here…

The key to managing maternity is effective planning and good communication throughout.  Things don’t always go to plan, of course things can change after the child is born; so start planning as soon as your employee tells you she is pregnant. Make sure all important information about their role is written down and ask them to help write a clear job description when looking for replacements.

So here’s some “good to know” facts to get you started…

Pregnant employees have 4 main legal rights:

  • Maternity leave
  • Maternity pay or maternity allowance
  • Paid time off for antenatal care
  • Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal

Notice of pregnancy

Employees must tell their employer about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due. If this isn’t possible (for example, they didn’t know they were pregnant) the employer must be told as soon as possible. Employees must also tell the employer when they want to start their Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay.

Maternity Leave

Eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave (26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave). They don’t have to take the full 52 weeks’ but they must take 2 weeks leave after the baby is born (4 weeks if the work in a factory). This can begin, but not before, 11 weeks before the expected week of birth.

Pregnancy-related illnesses

Maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay will start automatically if the employee is off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the baby is due, and this supersedes what has been previously agreed.

Maternity Pay

Eligible employees can claim up to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay (90% of their average weekly earnings before tax for the first six weeks, then 33 weeks at £138.18 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower).

Some employers may offer more generous leave and pay conditions and this should be included in the employees contract terms or Employee Handbook. Employers pay SMP to the employee, and businesses whose total annual National Insurance contributions are less than £45,000 can claim all of it back plus 3%. This is deducted from tax payable to HM Revenue & Customs.

Whilst on leave

Staying in touch is extremely important and there are 10 statutory KIT (keeping in touch) days available, which are a great way to make an employee still feels part of your business.  They are paid for coming in, without it affecting their SMP and can be used for training, actual work or even business social events and are a great way of easing their journey back to work. These days however, are not mandatory and an employee should not be made to feel that they must use them.

Return to work advice

A phased return to work at the end of maternity leave is probably a very good idea, as the reality is there will have been significant changes for them in their new role as a parent and probably your business since they’ve been away.

There are lots of other things to think about with the maternity process and we have only covered a few basics for you; there are health and safety issues to think about, as well as eligibility for SMP (Statutory Maternity Pay) and what documents you need to send and receive to name a few.

If you need help with the maternity process download HR Revolution’s Maternity Pack with all the letters, guides, policies and templates you will need to ensure seamless execution of the Maternity Leave Process, starting with communicating the employees statutory rights, through to ensuring a smooth and successful return at the end of their leave. | |

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