A new report from EHRC and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) looked into pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace. It found that small businesses were less likely to be aware of KIT days and more likely to report difficulties managing pregnancy and maternity issues across a range of related areas.
The report was based on interviews with 3,034 employers and 3,254 mothers, and found that small businesses in particular were struggling to cope with the management of maternity leave. Companies of this size were most likely to report troubles managing pregnancy and maternity issues across numerous areas such as enhanced protection from redundancy during ordinary maternity leave, accumulation of annual leave during maternity leave, uncertainty of whether the individuals will return to work and additional maternity leave.
From all the businesses surveys, 28 per cent found enhanced protection from redundancy unreasonable, while 13 per cent said it was difficult to implement. A quarter thought the accumulation of annual leave during maternity leave was unreasonable, while nearly a fifth said it was difficult to facilitate.
The uncertainty of knowing whether employees would return to work was also felt tricky to cope with according to a quarter of businesses, and 16 per cent felt additional maternity leave was difficult to arrange. Cover for the position was also an issue – 18 per cent believed this was tough to arrange.
The details from the report indicated that communication was a cause of many of the ongoing issues. The level of contact employers had with their workers on maternity leave varied significantly between different types of workplace. Small private sector employees were much less likely to have either formal or informal contact with employees on maternity leave, or be aware of KIT (Keeping In Touch) days.
Where contact was made by smaller employers, it was more likely to have consisted of checking on the welfare of the mother and baby. There was also confusion as to what would be regarded as appreciated contact – three in ten employers felt reaching out to those on maternity leave would be interpreted as putting them under pressure to return to work sooner. On the flip side, the most common problem reported from those on maternity leave was too little contact from their employers (26 per cent said this was the case).
KIT days were flagged up as an area small employers were not particularly aware of – while 97 per cent of large employers and 86 per cent of medium firms knew about KIT days, this dropped to 53 per cent of small employers. Similarly, larger companies were more likely to use KIT days than smaller employers – 88 per cent, compared to 21 per cent.
What you should know as an employer:
- While employees are on maternity leave, employers are legally required to keep them informed of issues which may affect them, such as promotion opportunities or job vacancies
- The amount, and type, of contact between an employee and employer must be “reasonable”
- Women are also allowed to work for up to ten days during maternity leave without it affecting their maternity pay. These are called “Keeping in Touch days” and are meant to serve as a chance to work, but aren’t designed to replace other forms of communication with employees on maternity leave
- All pregnant employees are entitled to paid time-off for antenatal care and eligible employees can take up to 52 week’s statutory maternity leave (26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave). This can begin 11 weeks before the expected week of the birth
- Mothers don’t have to take 52 weeks’ leave, but they must take at least two (rising to four if they work in a factory).
- Eligible employees can claim up to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay (90 per cent of their average weekly earnings before tax for the first six weeks, then 33 weeks at £138.18 per week or 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings – depending on which is lower)
- Employers pay SMP to the employee and for businesses whose total annual National Insurance contributions are less than £45,000 can claim all of it back plus three per cent, which is deducted from tax payable to HMRC
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