Returning from maternity leave

Maternity leave can be complex for small employers this article looks to summarise the key points.

Changing the return date

If an employee wants to change their return date from maternity leave, they must give the employer at least eight weeks’ notice before the new end date. If the employer is not given enough notice, the employer can delay the return to reflect the correct period of notice (but not beyond additional maternity leave).
If the employee wants to return to work later (although not beyond the end of additional maternity leave) then they must tell their employer at least eight weeks before the old end date.
Certain factors can delay a return date for example: –

• Annual leave: employees accrue annual leave during their maternity leave. Therefore, they may want to add this on to the end of their maternity leave to delay their return to work.

• Parental leave: an employee may choose to take parental leave immediately after additional maternity leave. If so, they must give 21 days’ notice before it starts. However, the employer may want to postpone this leave by up to six months if it could cause disruption to the business.

• Sickness absence: an employee may be unwell and unable to return to work. If that is the reason for not returning, then it will be regarded that they have returned to work and then absent on sick leave (instead of maternity leave). The normal sickness absence procedures should be followed.

The employee’s role

An employer must be careful not to make any changes that could affect the employee’s role. Employees are entitled under the regulations to return to the same job on no less favourable terms and conditions.
If the same job is not reasonably practicable, then a suitable alternative job could be offered, however, there must be a genuine business reason. If an employer will not allow the employee to return to the same job or to a suitable alternative job, then there is the risk of unfair dismissal or maternity and/or sex discrimination.

Return to work

It is important to have a return-to-work meeting with the employee to welcome them back. This is an opportunity for the employer to ensure they are doing what they can for the employee to return to work and do their job. An employer also has a duty to breast-feeding employees so therefore support should be offered with regards to providing suitable facilities to rest and take meal breaks.

Other Health & Safety needs must be met too, a workstation assessment should be carried out and any required equipment should be provided.

Overall, the key factors to think about are to provide a supportive environment, have open communication, avoid making changes to the role and giving the employee time to settle back into work. You will find that not only will this help in retaining employees but also avoid the potentially expensive consequences that could arise.

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