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Discrimination against pregnant women or those on Maternity Leave is a hot topic at the moment. Cases are frequently making headlines and a light is being shone brightly on companies who aren’t approaching pregnancy issues legally. Many businesses surveyed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission believe that it’s fine to ask about plans to start a family in an interview. It’s not, and discrimination on these grounds is illegal. There are 5 million working mothers in the UK and plenty more who want to work. That’s a big chunk of the workforce! Happily, many forward-thinking employers are realising that there are plenty of ways to make work fit with parenthood. Understanding the issues (that’s where we come in) means freedom from worry, allowing employers to choose and retain the very best person for a job from the entire pool of candidates!

Small businesses: how to handle Maternity

For smaller businesses, the impact of an employee going on Maternity Leave can be hefty, and unpredictable. To help you cope with this fairly heavily regulated process, here are the basics for before and after the birth, and our tips on good practice along the way.   

Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off work before and after the birth. They also have a legally protected right to return to work subject to certain, very limited exceptions, and some enhanced rights over other employees. Under the current legislation you have a responsibility to treat the pregnant employee fairly, and in some situations more favourably, during their pregnancy and on their Maternity Leave. This includes ensuring they are considered for possible promotion if a more senior role opens up and continuing to provide them with of all their normal ‘benefits’ (except pay). 


Maternity Leave


When’s the right time to spill the beans? 

As an employer, by law, you should be given at least 15 weeks’ notice of the baby’s due date. Aside from this, a woman is free to share her news at any stage she chooses. 

As you probably know, pregnancy can be a rough ride for some, and any sickness at this time should be treated sensitively (and definitely not discriminated against!).  

Gold star tip: Keep an emergency stack of plain crackers handy!  


Maternity Leave 

For the two-week period following the birth of the baby, you cannot allow your employee to work for you, she must take this time to recover. For factory workers, the compulsory period is 4 weeks. Beyond that, all employees are entitled to take 52 weeks of Maternity leave regardless of their hours, pay, or the amount of time they’ve worked for you. 

During Maternity Leave, the most common right to arise is in relation to redundancy: if their post is at risk of redundancy and they’d have to apply competitively for another similar post, they must be given prior consideration over and above any colleagues who are also at risk of redundancy.


Statutory Maternity Pay 

An employee will qualify for a period of 39 weeks if they: 

  • Are earning over £111 per week 

  • Have given you the necessary 15-week notice 

  • Have provided a MATB1 form or medical confirmation 
  • Have worked for you continuously for 26 weeks, up to the 15-week notice 

Returning to work 

Staff who have been off for under 26 weeks have the right to return to the same role.

Staff who have been off for over 26 weeks have the right to return to a similar suitable role on no less favourable terms.

What can you do to retain staff after Maternity Leave? 

Stay in touch: during her Maternity Leave try and keep up regular communications, asking if your employee would like to be involved in any decisions related to her usual role. 

👎 How not to handle things: A new mum is on Maternity, she usually manages a team, and discovers her team has been restructured with several of her team members made redundant while she’s been off. She hasn’t had input into the new structure, and it hasn’t been explained to her. When she speaks to her boss she is told she wouldn’t understand it with ‘baby brain’. She’s now actively looking for a new job elsewhere, and that careless comment alone could give rise to a discrimination claim. 


Offer flexible work (and a little empathy): part-time, remote working, flexible hours and a flexible attitude (such as the emphasis on work carried out rather than hours in the office) will all be beneficial to your employee. 

👍 Gold star example: Supporting a new mum in the early days goes a long way. A wise employer has planned a work schedule for the employee’s first few months back, making sure there are minimal nights away with the job and meetings are scheduled to start at 9.30 rather than 9 so that no problems are caused if the new mum gets caught up at a difficult nursery drop off in the first few weeks. 


 Employer benefits of flexitime

When it comes to flexible working the benefits to the parent are clear (it allows the returning parent to balance childcare and work, which in turn allows for lower stress levels and better productivity). There are, however, some big benefits to the business. These are more subtle but can include: 

  • Having a more motivated and committed staff member who stays loyal to you- saving you in recruitment and training costs. 

  • Homeworking can reduce your overhead costs. 

  • Two heads are better than one! Job sharing can add healthy competition, and broaden creative ideas, as well as making it much easier to cover holidays.
  • Part-time work, perhaps the job could work as a part-time role, again reducing your costs.

flexible working statistics

If you have any questions about how to handle maternity in your business please email us on help@citrusHR.com or call us on 0344 4440165 and we’ll be happy explain how HR consultancy can help. Or click here for a free trial of our software.