What should happen on maternity leave?

by Sarah Veale CBE

Published: 03 Aug 2015

As part of our #worksforme campaign we’re busting some of the myths and misinformation around pregnancy and maternity in the workplace. This week we’re focusing on maternity leave.

We need to talk

One major issue that our recent report has highlighted is that a lot of employers really aren’t sure about keeping in touch during maternity leave. On the bright side a lot of them said it was because they didn’t want to inadvertently pressure mothers into returning to work earlier than they wanted to. 

However, the bottom line is that nearly half of mothers experienced some kind of problem with contact during maternity leave and (by far) too little contact was the most common of these problems.

Keeping in touch with employees is a really vital part of making sure that the whole maternity leave process goes smoothly and results in women returning to work successfully.  We’ve put together some great resources on maternity leave to get people talking about maternity leave practices and to clear up some of the confusion.  And below you’ll find a quick summary of recommended practices and legal requirements relating to communicating with employees during maternity leave. 

Communicating is good – what’s recommended?

Most employees want to be kept in the loop about what’s happening in the workplace. The best thing is for employers to have a system for contacting employees on maternity leave. Ideally it should be part of a transparent maternity policy and employees should be able to opt out of contact that isn’t a legal requirement. 

1. Keeping in Touch days  

Employees can work up to 10 days during maternity leave (provided employer and employee agree) without it affecting statutory maternity pay – these are called keeping in touch (KIT) days. There is no legal right to be paid but many employers pay a normal working rate. 

Why is this recommended?
As well as helping people stay up to date with developments and connected to colleagues, keeping in touch days allow employees to maintain their profile in the workplace, which leads to a higher likelihood of a successful return.

2. Flexible Working Requests 

Anyone employed for 26 weeks can request flexi-working. It’s recommended that any requests should be made at least three months before the agreed return to work date. This allows employers enough time to respond to and accommodate requests where possible.

Why is this recommended?
Flexible working doesn’t just mean going part-time. It can also include working time, pattern of working or working location. The government sees increased business development and productivity as a key driver for businesses to adopt more flexible employment practices.  

3. Maintaining performance reviews and training

Maternity is no reason for women’s careers to go on hold. Performance reviews and training can be worked around or into maternity leave. For instance a Keeping in Touch day could be used to attend a performance review. 

Why is this recommended?
Maintaining career prospects is important for managing working mothers’ successful return to the workplace and minimising staff turnover costs. Also, where a pay rise or promotion is dependent on a performance review and an employee isn’t given the opportunity to attend it may be considered maternity discrimination. Similarly, disadvantaging women on maternity by denying them training could be maternity discrimination.

Communicating is the law – what are employers legally obliged to do?

There are some things that employers are legally obliged to notify their employees about if they occur during maternity leave.

1. Opportunities

Employers must contact their employees if there are any promotions or job opportunities. Failure to do is likely to be maternity discrimination.

2. Redundancy

Employers must contact their employees if there is a redundancy situation. Failure to do is likely to be maternity discrimination.

So that’s everything then?

Of course, no single blog post can cover everything, so if you want more helpful guidance on the best practices for maternity leave you’ll like our free online toolkit full of practical advice that we’re launching next week…

Finally, just a reminder that you can show your support using the #worksforme hashtag on tweets and posts and if you think it’s useful feel free to share on Facebook and Linked In with your followers. 

We look forward to hearing from you.