Recently published statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed that many businesses’ attitudes towards maternity leave, “are decades behind the law”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commision surveyed 1,106 senior business decision makers and found that around a third (36%) of private sector employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future, during the recruitment stage.
Below are questions and answers to three common concerns of small businesses in relation to maternity leave.
What does it mean for a small business owner when an employee takes maternity leave? How much notice do they tend to get, and how hard can it be?
- The first thing on an employer’s mind is usually ‘do I need someone to cover, who will cover and how am I going to arrange cover?’ It often means dealing with recruitment agencies which can be time-consuming and if you are bringing in someone new, it means risk and instability as you don’t know who is walking through the door.
- Employers also have to think straight away about health and safety, doing risk assessments and informing the employee about their rights to paid time off for ante-natal classes, pay and leave. If cover is needed for these appointments, it may make small business owners feel like they are having to pay twice for the time, the employee at the appointment and the cover.
- Employers do tend to get a significant amount of notice, often finding out shortly after the first trimester – because employees are excited about it and keen to get things in place. Once they have been told about a pregnancy, there is no excuse for not affording rights, as the law is clear on rights during pregnancy.
What advice would you give to employers to ensure they keep everything running as smoothly as possible?
- Be positive and supportive of the pregnancy
- Adopt an open-door approach to discuss anything the employee may want to speak to you about
- Put the employee’s health and safety first, and inform them of their rights, rather than leaving them to do the legwork and having to approach you for their rights
- Be transparent and include them in your plans to cover their position – they should not feel that they are being replaced or pushed out
- Make sure they know that you will be keeping their position open to them. This must be exactly the same job if they take up to 26 weeks off. If they take any more than 26 weeks off, they have the statutory right to return to the same job or a similar job with the same level of seniority and no detriment in terms.
- Try and agree on leave dates and return dates in advance. Also, try and plan in advance when they want to take the annual leave that they will accrue whilst off. Do not put pressure on but try and be supportive that they take it.
- Hire any cover on a fixed term basis only (unless you know that you can accommodate extra headcount permanently).
- Keep in touch with the employee whilst they are off – agree a frequency of contact, purely courtesy, to see if mother and baby are doing well, let them know about any updates or developments at work, invite them to your evenings out etc to keep them included and not feeling forgotten about.
- Learn about flexible working and the benefits before a request comes your way, so that you are prepared to deal with one professionally if it comes your way.
- We are facing a crisis as the talent pool is not keeping up with demands in recruitment. If you can accommodate flexible working or even recruit on flexible terms, you may be tapping into a talent pool of mothers, who are highly qualified, wanting to work, but just need hours that are not the run of the mill 9-5.
What do you think interviewees who know they are pregnant should do?
- They should not feel obligated to tell the employer that they are pregnant. As an individual, they deserve to be interviewed on a level playing field to a man.
- It should not be the case, but unfortunately, the reality is they may feel that not disclosing it would be misleading, or may mean that they begin employment ‘on the wrong foot’. In this case, it may be worth letting the employer know at interview. If anything, the employer should be more alert to the fact that they must ensure they pick the best person for the job – as if you felt that you had not been given the job purely because of your pregnancy, and they were not able to demonstrate otherwise, then you may be able to commence early conciliation or even go to tribunal, in respect of a discrimination claim. This would be direct discrimination and the burden of proof would, therefore, be on the prospective employer, to prove they did not discriminate on the grounds of pregnancy.