Maternity leave is a mixed bag – it brings joy, concern, happiness and stress for all concerned.
As an employer you don’t want to focus too much on what a gap your employee will leave because the last thing you want is to have them feeling any sense of guilt over having a child!
When you’re an employee you might be worried about the stress on your colleagues or maybe missing out.
We’ve crafted a blog for you that brings both sides together so you can get a better understanding of what goes into preparing for maternity leave.
Maternity leave : the employer’s perspective
Let’s be honest, it is the moment that many owners of a small business absolutely dread – the announcement that a key person is pregnant!
Well that moment happened for me after almost 5 years in business in 2019 when my Senior Consultant and right-hand person announced their pregnancy.
Naturally, I was absolutely delighted for them as a family but one can’t help but feel mixed emotions and slightly daunted by what this means for the business and also the legalities which up until that point had been unchartered territory for me as an employer.
What are the legalities of maternity leave?
There is certainly a lot of help on hand for the latter, whether you look at ACAS or use an HR Consultant to help you navigate your way through.
However you do have to identify two key factors for yourself; how you wish to interpret and implement what is legally right versus what culture you have and secondly how you plan for your business to continue to grow and flourish in a person’s absence. The second point is even more challenging when they are truly central to your business.
The law is fairly transparent over what a company has to do in terms of pay for antenatal appointments, when mat leave starts, holiday entitlement etc but speaking from not just this but my own personal experience of having two children, pregnancy is not always plain sailing for a person and can cause severe tiredness, feelings of being unwell but also uncertainty and fear.
What’s more, particularly when having a first child, the employee is going through one of the, if not the, most life changing experiences they will ever have and this cannot be underestimated.
Personally, I have felt that it is really important to try and be as understanding and flexible as possible and to be open and transparent with communication. It is key for both parties to be aware of each other’s expectations and keep chatting as things progress. I think it is fair to say that the circumstances can change very quickly and at any time so the sooner a plan is put in place the better!
What about maternity cover?
Many companies decide that they will cover the person’s maternity leave with a “maternity cover” which is generally a fixed term contract for the length of time that is anticipated to be required ranging from 6 months to 12 months. The role is advertised as such and it must be made clear to the candidates that this is only a fixed term role, not permanent. It is useful to source people who already have the skill set that the existing job role entails so as to ensure a smooth transition and the ability to hit the ground running.
So for us, “maternity cover” isn’t really a viable option and currently these shorter term contracts are very hard to fill in a market where permanent employment is readily available.
I had to think about what else I could do within our team whereby we could continue to work effectively through the absence at the same time as leaving the role available.
I am fortunate that I have a very robust and skilled team and one in particular has been receiving training for several months in order to absorb extra work. Others in the team, including myself, will also pick up any surplus and this gives everyone a chance to enhance and develop their own knowledge.
In addition, we decided to recruit a new Apprentice Recruitment Administrator which has helped us to delegate certain tasks which free up time to take on any extra duties needed.
This piece of recruitment will mean further growth in the future when our colleague returns from maternity leave.
We are now nearing the time that maternity leave starts and we are all very excited for their next chapter. We will miss having our team member in the office every day but feel ready and well equipped. My advice would be;
- Get familiar with the law quickly
- Decide how you will approach this situation within your culture – for example will you allow them to carry over holiday or follow the letter of the law?
- Make a plan and get your team on board
- Be transparent and open with your employee and communicate regularly
- Expect the unexpected
- Embrace the change and support your people
Maternity leave : the employee’s perspective
Work has always been a big part of my worrying in general and of course even more so leading up to this amazing life event – having a baby!
After always being very career focused and working in such a challenging and fast paced industry, it’s natural that this was going to be a huge consideration.
How would we afford to forego my income, how long to have off, how will I cope, when do I tell my boss, how will I deal with letting go of responsibilities, what will my role look like when I return?
When do I tell my employer I need maternity leave?
As an employee there are a few things to consider initially; when you decide to tell the business, factoring in initial appointments and communicating with the business on this, and later down the line, when you think you will need to start maternity leave, what are your company benefits.
It can be challenging for lots of people in the early stages of pregnancy with every person being unique.
For example, if you are struggling with severe morning sickness then this could be a reason why you would wish to tell your employer sooner. In terms of telling your employer, it’s actually anytime leading up to but no later than 15 weeks before your due date.
There are lots of factors to take into consideration though, for me it was being very aware that the business is a small one and that I was conscious there needed to be a plan in place especially with me being the only full time consultant in the office and that would of course have an impact.
Lots of people tend to tell employers after their first scan, as this is normally a safe milestone in the pregnancy journey, but it is entirely up to you. I would definitely say to do what you feel is right.
Planning for maternity leave
After initial appointments it’s a great opportunity to get together with your boss and chat through the plan for the coming months, especially to put yours and your employers mind at ease about the future and make things as straightforward as possible.
Will you need to train colleagues in specialist areas, will you be involved in recruitment for mat cover?
For me this time was quite unnerving as giving away some of my clients or responsibilities was very daunting but it’s something that you need to do for yourself, also for colleagues that need training and to be given the opportunity to develop professionally in your absence.
It is also worth speaking to your employer about the Maternity pay situation and anything else you may need to officially confirm to them.
To try and alleviate added stress in what is already an exciting but nerve-wracking time, it’s a good idea to have an idea as to how long you may want off and what your pay entitlements are. For example, if Statutory Maternity Pay only is applicable to you, what’s your plan around being off, have you thought about savings and putting money back?
You will no doubt be thinking of so many different things and sometimes even just getting through the day in the early stages, particularly if you are feeling really tired.
You will be given a MAT B1 form around your 20-week scan, this is something that you will need to make sure you give your employer a copy of as soon as you can. Around this time talk to your partner to get an idea of when you would like to finish and when your last working day would be.
Again, this can change, but it’s good for you and your employer to have a date in mind so you can work towards that date. Of course, these things don’t often go according to plan as you can’t mess with mother nature, but you get my drift.
Ultimately, it’s a big deal to you and your employer but it is also the most exciting time, so embrace every moment and be as open as you can be about your needs and how you are feeling but also how you can support the business.
Starting your family is such an important and exciting time in your life and your employer will want to support you wholeheartedly as we have here. It can be difficult to accept the absence and the effect on the business so having open honest conversations are really important.
If you’re an employee needing advice, we recommend ACAS. They are really helpful and have loads of information about maternity leave entitlement.
Should you need maternity cover for your business then get in touch – we can help you source the perfect stand in!