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.
Maternity leave return
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.
- Is an employer obliged to carry out an individual risk assessment for all new mothers returning to work from maternity leave?
- Risk assessment form for new and expectant mothers
- How to deal with the health and safety rights of new and expectant mothers
- Letter inviting a new or expectant mother to a meeting to discuss removing or reducing health and safety risks
- Liveflo: Assess the risks to an employee who is a new mother or breastfeeding
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.
- What adjustments to a new mother’s working conditions or hours of work might an employer make?
- Where an employer reduces a new mother’s working hours to avoid a risk to her health and safety, can it reduce her pay accordingly?
- Where it is not reasonable for an employer to alter a new mother’s working conditions or hours of work, or doing so would not avoid the risk to her health, what should it do?
- Are there special rules for new or expectant mothers employed on night work?
- Letter setting out temporary adjustments to working conditions or hours of work for a new or expectant mother
- Letter suspending an employee who is pregnant or a new mother on health and safety grounds
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.
- Do employees have the automatic right to change to a more flexible working pattern?
- How to deal with a request to return from maternity leave on a part-time basis
- Policy on varying employees’ hours on return from maternity leave
- Letter responding to an employee’s request to return from maternity leave on a part-time basis
- Podcast: Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
- Liveflo: Respond to a statutory request to work flexibly
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.
- Employment law manual: Right to return to work after maternity leave
- Does an employee have the right to return to the same job after maternity leave?
- Does an employee have the right to return to the same job after taking a period of shared parental leave?
- If a pregnant employee is employed to do suitable alternative work throughout her pregnancy, is her right to return to work after maternity leave the right to return to this job or to her normal position?
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.
- Are employers obliged to accommodate requests for lengthy breaks several times a day for the purpose of expressing milk?
- Are employers under an obligation to provide breastfeeding facilities for nursing mothers?
- Is there a cut-off point at which an employer’s specific responsibility for the protection of a breastfeeding employee ends?
- Can an employer prevent an employee returning to work early from maternity leave because she is still breastfeeding?
- Can an employee postpone her return to work after maternity leave because she is breastfeeding?
- Are there any risks specific to breastfeeding mothers that employers must consider?
- Policy on employees breastfeeding/expressing milk