How to manage pregnant employees and handle maternity leave

  • Be aware that, regardless of her length of service, every pregnant employee is entitled to 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave followed immediately by 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave.
  • Ensure that employees are aware of the correct procedure for notifying their intention to take maternity leave, and remember that they may change their mind about the date on which they intend to start their maternity leave.
  • Where an employee has given notification of her intended maternity leave start date, be aware that you must respond within 28 days.
  • Permit pregnant employees to take a reasonable amount of time off work for antenatal care, and pay them for this time.
  • Take into account that an employee’s maternity leave will be triggered where she gives birth early or is absent for a pregnancy-related reason in the four weeks before her expected week of childbirth.
  • Inform any employee hired to cover an employee’s absence on maternity leave that he or she has been recruited for this purpose and that the contract of employment will be terminated once the regular employee has returned to work.
  • Be aware that employees with an expected week of childbirth on or after 5 October 2008 are entitled to the benefit of all their non-remuneration terms and conditions throughout both ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave.
  • Remember that employees on maternity leave may carry out up to 10 days’ work for you without bringing their maternity leave or pay to an end, but make it clear that participation in so-called “keeping-in-touch” days is voluntary.
  • Remember that, in general, an employee is entitled to return from maternity leave to the job that she occupied before her maternity leave began.
  • Advise employees that they will not be permitted to return early from their maternity leave unless they provide eight weeks’ notice of their intention to do so.
  • In no circumstances permit an employee to return to work during her compulsory maternity leave period, which is the period of two weeks after the birth (or four, if she works in a factory).
  • Although new mothers have no statutory right to return to work on a part-time basis, give serious consideration to such requests and give objective reasons if unable to accommodate them. Be aware too that parents of children under the age of six (or 18 in the case of disabled children) have the right to apply to work flexibly.
  • Be aware that it is automatically unfair to dismiss or select an employee for redundancy for a reason connected to her pregnancy, or because she has given birth, or taken or sought to take maternity leave. Employees are also entitled not to be subjected to any detriment for these reasons.
  • Where an employee on maternity leave is made redundant, ensure that she is offered any suitable alternative employment.
  • Provide any employee dismissed during pregnancy, or while absent from work on maternity leave, with a written statement explaining the reasons for her dismissal.
  • Remember that employers have particular health and safety obligations with regard to new and expectant mothers in relation to rest facilities, risk assessments, suspension from work and night work.
  • Be aware that an employee’s contract of employment may provide for more generous maternity rights.

More resources from XpertHR on this topic include:

Practical Guidance for all HR Professionals

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Pregnancy and maternity rights content on XpertHR

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