How to Positively Manage Maternity Leave in a Small Business
3rd January 2017
When an employee announces their pregnancy, you’re all smiles on the surface. You congratulate them. You’re happy for them. Now, you’re faced with issues surrounding maternity leave.
Businesses are expected to take this experience in their stride.
But the truth is, things are never that simple. For small businesses, maternity leave is a particularly concerning challenge.
You risk losing a key employee for a significant amount of time. You can’t just replace them, because they’ll need to come back once they’ve comfortably settled into motherhood. You may need to pay them for not working for you, whilst paying someone else to do their job.
You might need to recruit someone new, invest in training and hope that they keep things on track. You need to keep everything running smoothly.
It’s important to make sure that you’re not breaking any employment laws.
Maternity leave is complicated. And, whilst there are so many news reports about maternity rights, little thought is given to the employers that have to make it work.
Here are our tips for taking one of the biggest workplace challenges, and turning it into a positive experience for everyone:
Maternity leave UK: the rules
Before you do anything else, make sure that you’re clued up on the rules.
What are women entitled to, once they announce their pregnancy? What should you do? What shouldn’t you do?
Statutory Maternity Leave
In broad strokes the rules around statutory maternity leave are women are entitled to up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave.
They don’t have to make use of it all.
But, new mums must use maternity leave for the first two weeks following the birth.
Every new parent is different. Some will find it extremely difficult to return after 52 weeks. Others will be desperate for time with adults and a bit of routine and normality. They may want to return when their baby is just one month old.
No one way is better than another. As an employer, it’s your job to support your employee’s decision.
Your employee must tell you about their pregnancy, at least 15 weeks before the baby’s due date. This entitles them to their 52 weeks of maternity leave. At this time, they should also tell you when the baby is due.
If you have any doubts about the pregnancy, it is important not to make accusations. You have a right to ask for a supporting medical document, as proof that an employee is pregnant.
Your employee also needs to tell you when they intend to start their maternity leave. At this stage, you should write to your employee and detail their return to work date. This has to be done within 28 days, and your employee will need to give eight weeks’ notice if they plan to return on a different date.\
If an employee has left work early, as a result of a pregnancy-related illness, then their maternity leave will start automatically four weeks before the baby’s due date. If the baby arrives early, it automatically starts on the day after the birth.
- It isn’t your job to question your employee’s decision about how much maternity leave they would like. Make sure that they understand their entitlement, but don’t make them feel bad if they only want a month or two off work. Or, if they want to be away for as long as possible!
- Respond quickly to your employee’s pregnancy announcement. Once they have told you the date that they intend to start maternity leave, you should provide a written response within 28 days.
- Be prepared for the fact that things don’t always go to plan. As soon as you know about your employee’s pregnancy, prepare for their sudden disappearance. Many women are unable to continue working until their baby is born, and many babies are born months before they were due, so don’t plan on your employee being around until their due date.
Employees are entitled to be paid during their maternity leave.
Statutory Maternity Pay
This is the most common form of payment. Payments are made for 39 weeks.
Women are entitled to this as long as they have been in employment for a full 25 weeks, leading up to the 15th week before their baby’s due date. In short, they should have been employed since the start of their pregnancy.
They must also have average weekly earnings that, at the very least, have had them making National Insurance contributions.
Statutory Maternity Pay is paid at 90% of a woman’s average weekly earnings, for the first six weeks of maternity leave. After this, it is paid at the SMP rate (currently £139.58) per week, if this is lower than the previous payment.
If an employee does not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, because they are not earning enough or haven’t been employed for long enough, then they should instead receive Maternity Allowance.
They must have been employed for 26 weeks out of the 66 leading up to their baby’s due date. They should have earned at least £30 a week, on average, for at least 13 of those 26 weeks.
Maternity Allowance payments can begin up to 11 weeks before the baby is due. They will continue for up to 39 weeks, depending on eligibility. Payments are for between £27 per week and £139.58 per week.
If your employee isn’t entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, then you should direct them to Jobcentre Plus to claim their Maternity Allowance. They will need an MA1 form, which they can print and fill in.
Contractual Maternity Payments
Some employers go above and beyond, offering a higher level of maternity pay to their employees.
Others will offer payments for longer than 39 weeks.
If you are offering this, it should be mentioned in employment contracts and employee handbooks.
- Help your employee to check what they’re entitled to. If they won’t be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, support them in their application for Maternity Allowance.
- Maternity pay is relatively low. It causes a lot of stress for many new mums. If you are able to, you can make early motherhood much less difficult by offering more than you need to.
Other maternity rights
Pregnant employees are entitled to take time off for any relevant medical appointments. This time off should be paid.
Employees can have up to 10 KIT days, during their maternity leave. These Keeping In Touch days are intended to keep employees in the loop, and make it easier for them to settle back into working life.
Women have a right to return to work after their Maternity Leave. If their original job is no longer available, they should be offered a suitable alternative.
- As an employer, it is your responsibility to reconsider health and safety following a pregnancy announcement. Remember that tasks may be more risky for pregnant women, and that you may need to make accommodations. If you cannot make reasonable accommodations, then you should suspend your employee to protect her health and her baby’s wellbeing.
- If you need to make redundancies whilst an employee is on maternity leave, then you must be particularly careful. An employee on maternity leave is not protected from redundancy, but you will need to be able to defend your decision if it’s called into question. Redundancies must be genuine, and your employee must not be made redundant because of their pregnancy.
- Work hard to show employees that they have not been forgotten about, whilst they’re on maternity leave. Keep including them in company emails, and phone them with any important news. Consider inviting them to company events, nights out and celebrations.
- Always remember that maternity leave can be difficult for everyone. Employers can struggle, but so can employees who are adapting to their biggest life change whilst often being paid far less than they ever have before. By keeping lines of communication open, you can make this process as smooth as possible for everyone that is involved.
Is the ‘9 to 5’ Staying Alive?
21st June 2012
Back in the 80’s Dolly Parton famously sang ‘Working 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living’.
The question we ask ourselves today though; is this still the best way to make a living thirty plus years on?
Historically, traditional working environments have dictated a 9 to 5 week across most business sectors and especially in banking/financial services and retail businesses.
Offering working practises outside of the standard ‘9 to 5’ contract is becoming more essential at work as an option, in an ever evolving environment of improved communication and technology that are opportunistic for businesses to support customer demand 24/7 and also assist improved employee work/life balances.
How realistic is this to put into place and how can productivity be measured objectively and consistently? There is not an easy answer!
So what are the pros and cons?
Well, a 9 to 5 structured and set working week offers a pattern of consistency, regularity and sense of security for employees with receiving a regular income. For the employer, it allows a time period each week of employment, where the business is supported by manpower to achieve its goals and support productivity.
Whilst this approach is generally accepted as the ‘norm’ do we know if employees consciously or subconsciously plan their day into 8 hours? Is the time spent not only productive but used efficiently? Do they feel pressured to always ‘look busy’?
How can we be confident that everyone is working to their best and fully committed to delivering 100%?
In a 9 to 5 role, Monday is generally the ‘gently starting the week’ day and Friday is the ‘winding down for the weekend’ day when productivity is generally questioned.
Most businesses have always had concern to question whether the set hours each day at work are being used for maximum productivity, but more often than not it hasn’t been a priority to measure productivity at a department, team or individual level, proactively and has been left to ‘performance managing’ individuals if it was felt their productivity was falling due to the quality or quantity of work.
Entrepreneurial businesses and ‘start ups’ by nature may have set hours per week contractually set with their employee, but are much less ridged to set hours or and routines of working practises, with having to be flexible and supportive of changing priorities.
Unless tried and tested ways of measuring productivity are stringently applied, having anything set outside of the 9 to 5 can prove difficult to implement.
An alternative consideration is to pay by project based time allocated for completion of a specific task or job by week, month but this isn’t an attractive employment proposition for most people as an option.
However, this can also prove difficult to measure fairly and consistently. For example, in a creative design role, how do you measure creativity?
Then there’s customer demand and expectation which dictate a 9 to 5 work pattern.
A possible alternative would be to hire employees on part time hours covering the busier middle part of the day. For example 10AM to 4PM can be covered whilst fewer employees are working at the beginning and end of each day. The busier time of the day supported by core volume of employees would naturally attract higher productivity to meet customer demand.
On the flip side, we can’t forget that recent statistics show that a majority of employees work longer than their contractual hours and often skip or have a reduced lunch break to cope with the volumes of work and customer demands.
Each business will adopt working practises that suit them best. There are too many variables of ‘what if…’ to adapt ways of working outside the 9 to 5 into many businesses and currently the topic provokes more questions than provides practical solutions.
This topic is still a work in progress for many businesses and due to the legacy of 9 to 5, it will take some time to no longer be the ‘norm’ to offering anything else.
Overall, whether you agree a 9 to 5 is still a valid pattern of working or not, the most effective way of measuring performance and productivity comes down to effective employee management, SMART objectives and individual accountability.
So consider; do you have SMART objectives and a robust performance management process in place to allow the effective control and review of productivity and performance, regardless of what the work pattern is?
That’s a great place to start.
Scott Maddy MCIPD
How does Effective ‘Engagement’ Lead to Great Business Success and Performance?
15th June 2012
The word ‘Engagement’ is thrown around and discussed a lot in the HR field as a truly fundamental element to driving business success, not just for the immediate time but for future growth and profitable results.
But what does ‘Engagement’ actually mean in today’s businesses and what can be gained with investing in this topic?
If we refer of the traditional meaning of ‘Engagement’, we often think of personal commitment or partnership, which in reality in a business, isn’t too different from working practises that support a two way approach between employer and employee; after all when a new person joins a business and has gone through the interview process, a professional working relationship commences. Due to business pressures and the ‘day job’ however, the continuous development of this relationship can sometimes falter and not be addressed, which in turn can imbed a negative employee expectation and employer status (the ‘them and us’ scenario).
‘Engagement’ is the continuous development of an emotional relationship. We aren’t talking of standard emotions that come to mind of love and hate (well, I hope not to that degree!) but more towards an emotive grounding of a sense of belonging; feeling part of something and gaining something in return, whether that be increased trust, confidence, knowledge, understanding or commitment.
In a business sense it’s the emotional level the individual has with their manager, team and organisation.
How businesses get it wrong is to refer to ‘Engagement’ as an action, rather than aiming to implement it as a cultural norm or expectation. For example I’ve come across businesses that say ‘Every Wednesday is Engagement day, when we get cakes in’.
Whilst in essence this small gesture is no doubt appreciated to a degree, but what happens on the other 4 working days of the week? Longer term, this practice could be considered paying ‘lip service’ and staff could become cynical over this ‘Engagement’ activity.
There isn’t a hard or fast set rule on the most effective way to engage employees for all businesses; you know your people, business sector, culture and values – it’s aligning those to your Engagement Strategy and processes that will really link your employees to the environment you wish to create and work within.
A starting place is to look at how effective internal communication is?
Do employees have a voice? Are they dictated to, or are they involved in any decision making process?
For SMEs, there is a perfect opportunity to set a framework for engagement that suits the business, is practical to uphold and really cements a continuously developing relationship from day one of employment.
At a very basic level, just saying ‘Good morning’ or ‘Thanks for your assistance’ goes a long way as a start.
Effective Engagement, when done properly, can reduce turnover (and all associated financial and non financial costs), create a working environment of dedicated, motivated and committed employees who know where they fit in the business, what they contribute and what they get back (recognition, development, rewards).
Just remember, like in any relationship we all ask the same questions:
1. What do I give?
2. What do I get?
3. How do I belong?
4. How do I develop?
It’s no different in our businesses with our employees!
Scott Maddy MCIPD