How company owners should manage maternity leave and pregnant employees

Danielle Ayres discusses the eight top tips that small business employers can adopt to help them properly manage pregnant employees in the workplace and those who go on maternity leave.

A report published in July by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that around 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs each year in the UK alone due to unfair and sexual discrimination in their place of work.

Here are some pointers to treating pregnant employees and new mothers fairly.

1. Effective planning, awareness and action

Depends on the size of your business, depends on how many people you have to speak to. It’s vital to speak to the pregnant employee’s direct supervisor or line manager, which may be yourself, and other members of the employee’s team. These discussions should help you to gauge their views on the best ways to cover the employee’s leave.

Related: Supporting employees with shared parental leave

There are a number of arrangements you can make: a number of employers hire a temporary member of staff to cover the maternity leave, while others I know have recruited internally. Another option is to adjust internal roles. As a priority, if the employee’s work is to be redistributed among other staff you should take care that cover arrangements do not create resentment if other members of staff take up the slack and end up with an increased workload. Ensure your option doesn’t impact upon working relationships and morale.

2. Communication is key

If there is a maternity leave policy, talk to the employee about her plans – when she expects to finish, how long she will be taking off etc. It really is good practice to have a chat with your employee about her rights and entitlements. Nothing needs to be set in stone, but it will simply help to avoid confusion and any misunderstandings down the line, and hopefully ensure that both parties know exactly where they stand. As a small business, it will also help you to plan and manage her pregnancy and leave accordingly.

3. KIT days

KIT stands for ‘keeping in touch’. An employee on maternity leave may carry out up to ten days’ work for you without bringing their maternity leave or pay to an end. It is very important to note though that participation in these days is completely voluntary on the employees’ behalf, but may be a good way for the employee to keep in the circle. I have known employees who have coincided these KIT days with team meetings or training sessions. You cannot require an employee to work a KIT day, nor does she have the right to work without your agreement.

Aside from these official KIT days, an employee may make reasonable contact with the worker during her maternity leave. Before they go on leave, have a chat about the best way to be in contact: email, phone, letter etc, and how much contact she would like. She should be informed of vacancies and promotion opportunities which arise during her maternity leave and should also be sent information about social events, training courses and receive any newsletters of bulletins which are sent to other members of staff. 

4. Review and update risk assessments

Carrying out a risk assessment for the employee is important once you have been notified of a pregnancy. Once an assessment have been conducted, you are then under an obligation to do all that is reasonable to remove or prevent exposure to any significant risk that has been found. Make sure that the risk assessment is reviewed at regular intervals during the employee’s pregnancy. In 90 per cent of the cases that I know, it is likely that nothing will need to change, however, the employee may require an adjustment to her work station, such as a different chair, or a role change as their pregnancy progresses, such as being placed on light duties or home working.

5. Training, policies and procedures

Policies and procedures are there to be adhered to so make sure you so not stray from what has already been set out. However, if you do need to do something different and have a valid reason, ensure it is documented and agreed with the employee. Training and knowledge of the procedures for management and supervisors is essential; they need to know any maternity policy inside out and understand the obligations of the business and the rights that the employee has during this time.

6. Role changes

An employee who has taken up to 26 weeks’ maternity leave has the right to return to the same job as before. If she has taken more than 26 weeks’ leave this is slightly different as she has the right to return to the same job, unless it is not reasonably practicable for her to do so, in which case appropriate similar employment must be offered. The employee should, therefore, be kept informed of any proposed changes to her role while she is on maternity leave, such as if a restructure or redundancy situation arises.

7. Antenatal care pregnancy-related Illness

Any sick leave that the employee takes due to a pregnancy-related illness must be recorded separately. The reason is that it must not count towards an employee’s total sickness absence record or be used as a reason for disciplinary action or redundancy selection, even where that action is being taken after the woman has returned to work.

In terms of antenatal care, you must allow your employee to take reasonable paid time off at her normal hourly pay rate. Your employee is entitled to take such days off when they have been advised to attend by a registered doctor, midwife of health visitor.

8. Unfair treatment is discrimination

It is discrimination to treat a woman less favourably on the grounds of her pregnancy or maternity leave. Less favourable treatment includes refusal to offer training or promotion opportunities, reducing pay or hours, putting pressure on to resign or demoting the employee upon her return to work.

Danielle Ayres runs the Keeping Mum Campaign, aimed at helping everyone understand their legal rights and responsibilities surrounding maternity leave and pregnancy in the workplace.

Further reading on parental leave

Related Topics

Maternity Leave

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