HR 7 September 2015
How to manage maternity leave effectively as a micro business
A recent report from EHRC found smaller businesses struggled with management of maternity leave so employment lawyer Philippa Wood has prepared a useful set of guidelines on what you should know. Maternity gives employees automatic rights that only arise in very few other situations. Naturally many employers dread it not because they don’t want to support the employee through this lovely time but for fear of putting a foot wrong and incurring criticism at a sensitive moment. But if you get the right advice and plan ahead, maternity leave can be a breeze. Within the myriad of law surrounding this area, here a few of the main points to be aware of. Firstly, be prepared. What do your contracts of employments, policies and procedures say about maternity leave? Do you offer a statutory scheme only or an enhanced one? Do your employees know this? Any enhanced schemes should be clearly set out in an accompanying policy or within a handbook, so that they are not binding contractually and can be changed if necessary. If you just offer a statutory scheme, you could simply point employees towards a tailored guide such as that on thegovernment website. Alarger company may want to outline all the statutory details. it’s a question of what you feel is right for your business. Now to the dreaded word discrimination. The Equality Act of course came into force in 2010 and brought together a major review of discrimination, including new provisions. The nuts and bolts of it speak for themselves: an employer cannot treat a job applicant or employeeunfavourably, at any time starting from the beginning of pregnancy to the end ofmaternityleave, because of her pregnancy or because of an illness she has suffered as a result of her pregnancy. Similarly, an employer can’t treat someone unfavourably because they are oncompulsorymaternityleaveorexercising or seeking to exercise the right toordinary or additionalmaternityleave. Employers need to be thinking about discrimination from the point of recruitment. it’s pretty obvious that if you engage a young, female workforce, the higher the chances of more going on maternity leave. Taking care to monitor the ages and sexes of the candidates you interview is useful and of course be aware that you cannot say anything or ask questions about babies or the planning thereof at the point of recruitment. When an employee announces she is pregnant, her rights kick in and this is where as an employer you must make sure your house is in order. If you are not looking out for your employee, for example making sure that her working environment is not detrimental to her health and pregnancy, this is where you may face one discrimination claim. A lot of employers don’t seem to realise that being pregnant is not the same as being sick so be aware of employees who are taking time off for pregnancy related issues and what this means in contrast to normal sick leave. If you have given her sufficient terms, as above, she will know the process of leave and the dates on which she can start and finish, how she has to report this, whether she will receive enhanced or statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance (for employees who have been with their employer for less than 26 weeks leading up to the 15th week before childbirth). Sometimes it is a shock to employers to learn that an employee is assumed to be taking a whole year off unless she says otherwise. If you are a good employer, you will have a plan of action for maternity leave. Are you getting maternity cover or are you going to absorb that job amongst other employees for the duration of the leave? don’t forget that the employee will be nervous about leaving a cover in her job whilst away.