Employers that provide strong support to pregnant employees can transform their experience and help to ease what can be a stressful and anxious time for them. 77% of women said that they have had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and on their return to work. For many women the experience of having a child will put them off from returning to employment, demonstrated by 23% of maternity leavers not returning to work. In order to retain valuable employees in the workforce, you need to provide your female employees with consistent and individualised support at every stage of their parental journey.
Learning an employee is pregnant
When an employee tells you that they’re pregnant, you may immediately start thinking about maternity leave arrangements, but this is a momentous life change they are sharing with you, so it’s best to first congratulate them.
Following this news, setting up a meeting as soon as possible to discuss their pregnancy, maternity leave and any company policies that need bringing up, helps to create a clear path forward. In order to avoid any confusion and make sure that you are both on the same page, it’s a good idea to write down any discussion points and agreements for you both to have.
All pregnant employees are entitled to take time off work for antenatal appointments, which can extend to antenatal classes, such as for exercise and relaxation.
An employee must inform you of their pregnancy at least 15 weeks before their due date, and you must acknowledge this within 28 days of receiving their notice.
Preparing for maternity leave
While you should be having frequent discussions with your pregnant employee, as their departure date comes closer you should ensure you are having even more regular conversations that outline how you will stay in touch while they’re away. This is also your chance to discuss key points that they should be aware of. This should include:
- Confirmation of payment of Statutory Maternity Pay and/or contractual maternity pay.
- Her preferred way to keep in touch while on maternity leave/shared parental leave, including how frequently, when and the topics of conversation.
- Her plans for returning to work and any adjustments she may require, such as flexible working or an early return to work.
The earliest date an employee can start their maternity leave is 11 weeks before their expected due date, but if they would like to leave work early, they have the option to use their annual leave or take sick leave if they are unable to work, due to pregnancy complications for example.
Managing maternity leave
Employees on maternity leave should be offered the opportunity to catch-up on business developments and engage with their colleagues. Catching-up on business developments includes informing the employee of any reorganisation of the business that may impact them, pay rise possibilities and any opportunities or promotions that she should be aware of.
The most effective way to do this is through Keep in Touch (KIT) days. KIT days are up to 10 days an employee on maternity leave can use, without affecting her entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay.
Each time an employee works on a KIT day, it is counted as one of the 10 KIT days regardless of the length of time they were working; you couldn’t split the 10 KIT days into 20 half days for example.
As part of your contact with the team member on maternity leave, you should encourage her to share her thoughts regarding returning to work and whether she would want to adjust her working pattern. Many employees returning from maternity leave want to work part-time or flexibility, even if for a short period, before returning to full-time. It’s important to suggest these options to her and make her aware of how to submit a flexible working request.
Another choice for easing her return to work is to use her annual leave to work a few days a week and then gradually increase her working days. You could explain how employees have previously used their accumulated annual leave to phase their return to work in this way.
Returning to work
Following the conversations you’ve had with the employee whilst they’ve been on maternity, you should have an idea of how she’d like to return to work, whether that be flexibility, remotely or part-time.
Practical adjustments also need to be considered, such as having somewhere for her to express milk and a fridge to store it.
With postnatal depression affecting around 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth, being aware of the signs and how to provide support is very important.
Common symptoms of postnatal depression to look out for are:
- Low mood and persistent sadness
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- Withdrawing from contact with other people
- Lack of concentration and difficulty making decisions
A lack of support and understanding only exacerbates the situation for those dealing with postnatal depression, so if you are concerned about one of your employees, check-in with them and have an informal discussion about how they are coping with parenthood. If she feels comfortable sharing that she is struggling, reassure her that you are there to support her and sign-post her to any existing services within the organisation, such as support groups, and specialist resources such as PaNDAS Foundation, House of Light and Association for Postnatal Illness.