It's important for employers to know the do's and do not's when it comes to employee maternity leave, get it wrong and the consequences could seriously impact your business.
Throughout this blog we'll cover what you need from your employee, pre-maternity leave, the details of pay, benefits and the rules on contacting your staff whilst maternity leave is taking place.
What do I need from an employee before they go on maternity leave?
An employee should tell you of her pregnancy no later than the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (EWC). It is likely however that you will be told sooner, so that they can benefit from paid time off for antenatal care and risk assessments.
The employee must tell you:
- The fact that she is pregnant;
- The EWC; and
- The date when she intends her maternity leave to start.
As an employer, you must make suitable arrangements to keep the pregnant employee safe at work before maternity leave, but without such notice, the extra health and safety duties are not triggered. It is therefore important to have a clear and accessible staff maternity policy available, so employees know what to tell you, and when.
What happens to pay and benefits whilst an employee is on maternity leave?
Where she qualifies, an employee is generally entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay.
Statutory Maternity Pay is an amount set by Government every year, but you can offer enhanced contractual maternity pay if you wish. In addition, she will normally be entitled to be paid (subject to agreement) for any KIT days (discussed below), be told of any promotions or vacancies available and paid a bonus or pay rise which is awarded between the time she left on maternity, and the end of the leave.
The contract of employment continues throughout maternity leave, so generally, all of her ongoing benefits (such as for example, private use of a company car, healthcare benefits etc) will continue.
Contact during leave
Many employers and employees find Keeping In Touch Days (KIT days) very helpful. You can offer up to ten of these days which can help with keeping up to date. During KIT days, employees can carry out work for the employer and agreement between the employer and the employee can be made in relation to pay. There is no obligation on either party to have any KIT days.
Reasonable contact may be made with the employee as well though, for example, so that you can discuss arrangements for the employee's return to work or to keep the employee informed of important developments at work.
It would be good practice before the employee starts maternity leave to seek her view as to how much contact she would like during her leave and how she would like to be contacted, for example, by telephone, e-mail or post.
It is important to note that maternity leave and maternity pay are two different things, for which there are two different sets of rules. Likewise, there are also other parental rights you need to consider, like shared parental leave which is increasing in popularity especially where the female employee is the breadwinner in the household, and paternity leave and parental leave which can interact with maternity leave.
Finally, it is essential a paper trail is kept of when you were notified of the pregnancy, that you made suitable arrangements for the employee whilst on leave and for her return. Having a maternity policy in place can help in this, so there is no space for confusion or exploitation further down the line.
If you would like someone to review your current maternity policy, or provide you with a new and updated family friendly handbook to include policies covering all parental rights, contact our Employment Law and HR experts.