Maternity leave return: five key actions for employers

Aside from making arrangements to welcome an employee back from maternity leave and settling her into work, there are other issues that employers must consider. We discuss five key actions that employers should take before a new mother returns from maternity leave.

1. Carry out a risk assessments

Employers should conduct a risk assessment for a new mother if she has given birth in the last six months or is breastfeeding, as there could be a risk to her or her baby.

Employers may choose in any case to undertake an assessment to decide what actions are needed to avoid risks.


2. Consider changes to working conditions

If any risks are identified to the health and safety of a new mother, or her baby if she is breastfeeding, employers must deal with those risks.

If that is not possible, employers must alter the employee’s working conditions or hours of work, or offer her suitable alternative work.

Otherwise, the employer must suspend the employee with pay.


3. Deal with requests for flexible or part-time working

New mothers may want a more flexible working pattern to manage their work and family responsibilities.

All requests for reduced working hours, flexitime, annualised hours, job sharing, part-time work, self-rostering or permission to work from home fall within the flexible working rules.

Employers must consider requests in a “reasonable manner” and can only reject requests on certain grounds.

Flexible working policies help employers treat all employees consistently and fairly, particularly requests from male and female employees where sex discrimination claims could arise.


4. Reallocate work and restore employee’s old job

Employers must arrange for a new mother to return to the same job she held before her maternity leave began.

The right to return is subject to the requirement for the employer, if there are risks to her as a new mother or her baby while she is breastfeeding, to alter her working conditions or hours, or provide her with suitable alternative work.

If that is not feasible, she should be suspended with pay.


5. Provide breastfeeding facilities for new mothers

Employers must provide suitable facilities for a breastfeeding mother to rest, but are not required to make any other special arrangements.

Breastfeeding mothers are not entitled to additional time off beyond agreed lunch breaks and a 20-minute rest period when working six hours or more.

However, an employer’s unreasonable refusal to provide facilities for a mother to breastfeed her baby or to express milk may be sex discrimination.

Employers may also want to follow best practice and support new mothers and their babies. Having a breastfeeding policy acknowledges the needs of new mothers and creates a framework for line managers to discuss the issue.

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