Business should be given the 'green light' to ask when staff will return from maternity leave, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has said.
At present staff are not obliged to notify their employer when they plan to return to work while on maternity leave, making planning more difficult for many employers.
Julie Mellor, chair of the EOC, speaking as part of a panel discussion on improving people performance at the CBI annual conference in Birmingham last week, said that early dialogue between employers and staff on maternity would remove any uncertainty and reduce unnecessary business costs.
"It is essential there is more support for women with children to continue their careers," she said. "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," Mellor said.
Also speaking at the conference, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called for better managers to help improve staff performance and help the UK raise its productivity.
He cited research by Investors in People, which found that while 77 per cent of bosses believed they involved and consulted the people they supervised, only 44 per cent of staff agreed that this was actually the case.
"Middle management in particular often lacks the key people skills that make workplaces both productive and good places to work," Barber said.
Geoff Muirhead, chief executive of the Manchester Airport Group, said that a fear of failure among staff was holding many companies back and it was a problem that was becoming endemic in the British workplace.
"There will be no innovation if every time something goes wrong the person who makes the mistake is crucified," he said. "To use a football analogy, if you are defensive then the best you can hope for is a draw."