As an employment lawyer acting for individuals in the City, initial calls with my female clients usually start with “I came back from maternity leave and…” I was therefore not surprised by the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that there has been a significant increase in discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers.
From my experience - both as a lawyer and a working mother who has just returned from maternity leave - there are simple things an employer can do to prevent issues arising when new mothers return to work. Here are some top tips for employers on how to avoid the common pitfalls.
1. Discuss the level of contact
It’s always a good idea to discuss the level of contact an employee may want before commencing maternity leave. Most women do not want to be hounded with work-related queries in the early days. Equally, maternity leave can be an isolating experience. Sometimes the need for adult conversation (instead of repetitive chats over coffee about whether your “baby is sleeping through yet?”) can be overwhelming. So, check in with your employees every now and again, invite them to socials and (if they want to be) update them on general work news such as new joiners or changes to the business.
2. Keeping in Touch (KIT) Days
Employees on maternity leave can work up to 10 days without bringing their leave to an end. KIT days do not necessarily have to be use for “work” but can be for training, strategy days, or client events. Encouraging employees to use their KIT days is worthwhile, as it is a great way to stay connected.
3. Return to work arrangements
Returning from maternity leave may involve a conversation about flexible and/or part-time working arrangements. Modern technology now allows for remote working, meaning that businesses can adapt to their employees’ modern lives. It’s important that you listen to each request, think creatively about how a new working model could work and not worry about “setting a precedent”. A content employee is beneficial for business.
Some women may still be breastfeeding when returning to work and so you may need to discuss the practicalities of this (e.g. use of a private room to express and fridge space for expressed milk, etc.). It’s important that employers treat breastfeeding with sensitivity - it’s an emotionally charged subject so being open and non-judgmental is key.
5. Offer Childcare vouchers
Childcare is expensive and there is little government support to assist until a child reaches 3 years old. Childcare vouchers are a Government-approved, tax-efficient way of paying for childcare. It works by allowing employees to use part of their gross salary in exchange for childcare vouchers. There are a number of providers to choose from, it’s easily set-up and can make a big difference for parents.