So I recently returned to work after a year of maternity leave.
I birthed, I fed, I burped, I cleaned spit-up, I played ‘peek-a-boo’ until I was blue in the face and I cooed … oh, did I coo (insert heart emoji here). And all of a sudden, it was over and working life was to resume; just with cups of tea that I was able to drink while they were still hot, and conversations with people whose vocabulary extended beyond ‘dadda’ and ‘mumma’.
What to expect … when you’re expecting
Day one, right?
The great thing about maternity leave is that it’s a right from day one. This means that a pregnant employee (rather than a worker, or somebody who is self-employed) qualifies for it, no matter how long they have been with their current employer, their salary or the hours they work.
Breaking the news
When you choose to tell your employer about your pregnancy is entirely up to you, provided you do it by the end of the 15 weeks before your due date. Many expectant mums announce at the end of their first trimester and after that all-important 12-week scan (the one that helps doctors predict your due date). In short, the longer you and your employer have to plan for your maternity leave the better. Moreover, if you are experiencing issues with morning sickness, or need time off from work to attend antenatal appointments, the right level of support may be difficult to arrange if your employer is unaware of your pregnancy.
Work healthily, work safely
As soon as you notify your employer of your pregnancy, they have what is called a ‘duty of care’ towards you in respect of your maternity rights. This means that they should seek to identify any risks to the health and safety of both you and your baby by carrying out a workplace risk assessment. In the event that any risks are identified (for example, risks caused by working long hours or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks) the employer must take steps to remove them, eg by changing your hours.
‘M’ for maternity leave
Sleep like a baby (or not)
Maternity leave (i.e. that totally happy (yet exhausting) whimsical time consisting of park visits, soft play and baby yoga – yes, that’s a thing) doesn’t last forever. You have the right to 52 weeks’ leave, made up of ordinary maternity leave (the first 26 weeks) and additional maternity leave (the last 26 weeks), but you don’t have to take all of it. You do however, have to take at least two weeks’ off once your baby is born (presumably to adjust to life with your brand new mini human).
A note about maternity pay
You might also be eligible for statutory maternity pay if you satisfy certain conditions. It’s worth checking your employer’s Maternity policy for further details; in particular, checking whether they offer enhanced maternity pay.
Mum’s the word (or is it ‘flexi-time?’)
Rocking up to the office on a Monday morning (in attire not consisting of pyjamas), I considered myself one of the lucky ones – my Flexible working request had been accepted. In a flexible working arrangement, an employee has some say over how, where or when they work, and all employees who have worked for their employer for more than 26 weeks are entitled to request it. But what happens when you make a flexible working request and that request is denied?
Employers must consider requests for flexible working fairly, and only refuse the request if there is a valid business reason, for example, the burden of additional costs; inability to meet customer demand or reorganise work among other employees, etc. If such a reason does not exist, employers open themselves up to claims of discrimination. So what can employers do to minimise the risk of such claims? I recommend having a Flexible working policy in place, covering the types of flexible working, who is eligible to make a request and the reasons for refusing a request. They should give employees a right to appeal and formalise any changes to their employment contracts by way of a Change to employment terms letter.
Many nappy returns!
Alongside the excitement of having a new baby, it’s important that you feel confident in your understanding of the legal rules governing all things maternity. It’s a complicated area (as everyone is different), so Ask a lawyer if you’re unsure. In the meantime, enjoy this incredibly special time, watch all the box sets and eat that entire packet of Jaffa Cakes. Before you know it, they’ll be twonagers …