How to Positively Manage Maternity Leave in a Small Business image

How to Positively Manage Maternity Leave in a Small Business

Staff Squared date icon3rd January 2017

Tag iconSmall Business

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.

Top tips

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Maternity Pay

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.

Maternity Allowance

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.

Top tips:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Top tips

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Written by Sherree Tibbs

Customer Care Team Manager - Staff Squared

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Helping to build a healthier, more consumer-friendly tech ecosystem

Staff Squared date icon1st November 2018

Tag iconTech

Where there is great power there is great responsibility – Winston Churchill, 1906.

Twitter, Facebook et al have succeeded in connecting people all around the world in ways that we could never have imagined only a decade ago.   With just over 2 billion people on Facebook alone, the platform is a central repository of data the likes of which the world has never seen before. Even the much less popular Twitter still boasts 336 million accounts.

While social media companies benefit immensely from this data and generate billions of dollars in revenue from it, they have not taken the steps necessary to secure it.  This is evidenced by the vast number of data breaches reported in recent years, including the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Staff Squared strongly believes technology companies have a responsibility to balance their business interests with protecting their users’ privacy.    Safeguarding your information while contributing to a healthy, consumer-friendly network is important to us.   For those reasons, we’ve decided to stop engaging on these platforms.  While we can’t give up our pages as another person or company could take them, we will no longer contribute content and advertising on Facebook and Twitter.

We believe social media has plenty of uses for good causes.  We’ll remain hopeful that the promises made to improve privacy settings is taken seriously so that the web and people can continue to benefit from the social good of social media.

You can continue to read our tips and expert knowledge on HR via our blog.  Subscribe to our newsletter for our latest thinking, or drop us a line at for enquires and support.  The time we save not propping up these platforms will be invested in driving Staff Squared forward and continuing to deliver the great products and service our customers have come to expect from us.

Written by Simon Swords

Managing Director - Staff Squared

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Are you compliant with work break laws? image

Are you compliant with work break laws?

Staff Squared date icon15th October 2018

Tag iconOperations

Work break laws are overseen by the Working Time Directive and your employee’s contract of employment.  At first glance, they seem relatively simple for your average adult worker, but become increasingly complex as you take a closer look at exceptions and considerations.

As part of our spotlight on Working Time Directive we’ve reviewed the 48 hour maximum and opting-out of the limit.  In this blog we turn our attention to your work break laws and your responsibilities so you can be sure you’re doing what’s legally right.

First, let’s quickly review what counts as work

“Working time” is defined by the Working Time Directive as any period when the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his or her duties.

What counts as work

  • normal duties
  • job-related training
  • job-related travelling time (e.g. as a sales rep)
  • working lunches (e.g. business lunches)
  • time spent working abroad
  • paid and some unpaid overtime
  • time spent on-call at the workplace
  • travel time for mobile employees with no fixed place of work (also called Peripatetic workers)

What doesn’t count as work

  • breaks when no work is done (e.g. lunch breaks)
  • commuting to and from work
  • time when they are on-call away from the workplace
  • unpaid overtime that they have volunteered for (e.g. staying late to finish something off)
  • paid or unpaid holiday

Know your types of breaks

You have a responsibility to make sure that what counts as work does not exceed 48 hours  and that your employees are receiving the correct amount of rest, daily and weekly breaks during their defined working time.

Rest breaks

In general, workers over the age of 18 have the right to 20 minutes rest when working more than 6 hours per day.  A lunch, tea or smoke break can count as a rest break.

The 20 minute rest can’t be split into two 10 minute breaks.  The right to rest after 6 hours is an entitlement to only one block of time unless your employment contract says so.

There’s no statutory right to ‘smoking breaks’.  Employers are not required to give smoking breaks on top of the usual breaks.  Smokers aren’t entitled to more favorable treatment under work break laws.  While it could be an unfavorable stance to not grant them extra time, it might be necessary to avoid hostility amongst employees.

There’s no legislation pertaining to a worker’s right to take religious breaks.  Like smokers, employees have no legal rights to additional religions breaks.  Still, religion is one of the provisions set out in the Equality Act 2010.  Meaning if an employer does refuse a request for religious breaks, they must ensure that they’re not treating them less favourably than employees of another religion.

There is no opt-out permitted.   Whether on an individual basis or by virtue of a collective or workforce agreement.

You can decide when it’s taken… The fact that you’re legally entitled to schedule the break is a hotly contested topic.  There have been cases where the Employment Tribunal ruled against an employer who organised an employee’s work hours so that they break was scheduled at the end of their shift.  You should make arrangements to schedule it somewhere in the middle to avoid

but not where it’s spent. They are entitled to spend the time from their workstation and away from the the premises.

For some special cases of worker, entitlement to breaks does not apply. This class of worker must be allowed:

  • where possible, to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest; or
  • where not possible, offered protection to safeguard their health and safety.
  • This is known as compensatory rest.

Daily breaks

Adult workers have the right to a break of at least 11 hours in each 24 hour period during which they work.  For example, if they finish work at 7pm, they can’t start work again until 6am the following day.

Weekly breaks

Adult workers have the right to 24 hours clear of work each week or 48 hours clear each fortnight.  Put another way, you’re required to grant one weekly rest period at some point during each seven-day period.

Therefore, your employee could work up to 12 consecutive days if the weekly rest periods were granted on the first day of the first seven-day period and the last day of the following seven-day period.

Exclusions and special circumstances to work break laws

As is the case with every Working Time Directive provision, there are a number of exclusions.

  • Workers in an industry with busy peak periods, like agriculture, retail or tourism
  • Workers in industries with 24 hour staffing requirement. For example, those who work in the Armed Forces, security or surveillance-based work, health care services, emergency services or law enforcement.
  • Workers who work with sea, road, or air transport are excluded from the rest break rules. However, there are usually other regulations that apply to these sectors.
  • a job where they freely choose what hours they work (like a managing director) or where the work is not measured (ie no set hours)

Instead of getting normal breaks, these workers are entitled to ‘compensatory rest’. This is rest taken later the same day or the following working day.

Young or adolescent workers

Workers under the age of 18, but over school leaving age (he/she is under school leaving age until the end of summer term of the school year in which you they 16) are classified as a ‘young worker’.

Over 18

Young workers

20 minutes for 6 hours

30 minutes for 4.5 hours

Daily  11 hours 12 hours


24 hours

48 hours


 You’re not obligated to pay for breaks.  Whether or not it is paid will depend on the terms of the employment contract.

Record keeping

There is no requirement under the Working Time Directive for employers to keep records of rest breaks or rest periods.

Nevertheless, a well-rested workforce is happy, engaged and better performing

Technology has given us more flexibility in work than ever.  Workers are increasingly working remotely and aren’t constrained by working hours.  We’re also in an era where retention and staff engagement is critical.  To attract talent and keep staff working effectively and healthy, employers will often promote work-life balance.  Workers however, are then left to their own to set breaks.

Very few will take the full break, or choose to skip it altogether.  This leads to a whole host of mental and physical consequences.  Meanwhile, the benefits of time out are endless – lower stress levels, boost concentration and productivity, reduce sickness absence and healthy weight levels.

So aim to create a culture where taking breaks is the norm.  Encourage them to go outside, stock the kitchen and lead by example.  Your team will be energized and engaged even when work is challenging.  Meanwhile, your business will reap the rewards.

If not for these motivations, do it because of your legal obligations and not doing so can have consequences!

Contact ACAS for more details and exceptions on the Working Time Directive and rest breaks.

Written by Clarisse Levitan

Customer Care Team - Staff Squared

Clarisse works on our Customer Care Team to provide all of our customers to the very best care and guidance when using their HR software.

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