Maternity leave should be made easier for employers to manage through a new dialogue with women workers, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said at the CBI conference.
Following consultation with business organisations, the EOC is backing calls for a ‘green light’ to ask women to indicate their return dates much earlier during maternity leave, where this is possible.
The move comes aftertrade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt announced plans last month to extend the period of paid maternity leave.
The EOC argues that the lack of early dialogue between employers and staff on maternity leave causes problems on both sides, increasing uncertainty and unnecessary business costs.
Speaking at the CBI conference, Julie Mellor, chair of the EOC, said: “Employers need to be able to plan ahead. One of the biggest problems they face over pregnancy issues is the uncertainty of whether and when a woman intends to return to work after maternity leave.
“Flexibility at work cuts both ways,” she said. “It is essential that there is more support for women with children to continue their careers. But we also want to see a ‘green light’ that allows employers to contact women during their maternity leave to discuss return plans. Such a ‘right to request’ for employers will establish a framework for dialogue to benefit women as well as their employers.”