The HR Place

Managing Maternity Leave

A recent survey by The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reflects that many employers’ views of women taking maternity leave are ‘back in the dark ages’.

36 per cent of the 1,106 decisionmakers who were surveyed thought it was reasonable to ask a woman about her plans to have children, with 59 per cent agreeing that a woman should have to disclose during the recruitment process whether she is pregnant.

The survey also found that:

  • 46 per cent of employers felt it was reasonable to ask women if they had young children during the interview process.
  • 40 per cent of employers claimed to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace ‘take advantage’ of their pregnancy
  • Around a third of employers believed that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are ‘generally less interested in career progression’ compared to other employees in their company.
  • 41 per cent of employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace creates ‘an unnecessary cost burden’ for employers.

In another survey carried out by the EHRC in 2016, three quarters of working mums said they had experienced pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

Interestingly, other studies have shown that working mothers are often more productive and efficient, especially if working part-time.

“But I need to know if they’re pregnant when I hire them!”

As a business owner or manager, you may well be thinking “I need to know if she’s going on maternity leave the moment I hire her!”. “How am I going to cover the position if she goes off to have a baby?”.

The crucial point here is that as men and women are now able to share parental leave, and men have access to Additional Paternity Leave, either gender could take that time off to care for the baby.

What to do next

As discrimination awards are unlimited at Employment Tribunal, employers need to ensure they are acting appropriately. 

Here’s my advice:

Have set interview questions for every candidate you interview.

A list of questions will avoid the temptation to ask anything that could be seen as discriminatory and will also help you to review candidates’ responses to identical questions so that you can make your selection accordingly. 

Ensure any line managers are suitably trained. 

Make sure they know the recruitment process, what to ask and what not to ask, but also how to manage their direct reports in a fair and non-discriminatory way. 

Have open conversations.

When a member of staff notifies their pregnancy, you can use the opportunity to speak to them about any concerns, and to carry out a pregnancy risk assessment. Let them have a copy of the maternity policy and offer them the chance to ask any questions. Before they go on maternity leave, talk about Keeping In Touch days, procedures for notifying return to work, and how you (or their line manager) will keep in touch with them about any company social events or changes in the workplace. 

Talk about covering their position

Include them in your plans, and make sure they know any replacement is fixed term only, to cover their maternity leave and not to push them 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 maternity leave of 26 weeks or less, or a similar job with no detriment to their salary or seniority if they are off for up to 52 weeks (most employers hold the same position open for 52 weeks, anyway). 

Remember it can pay to be flexible.

Make sure you’re clued up on flexible working requests before one turns up on your desk. You can attract and retain talent if you can offer more flexibility, perhaps offering fewer hours or a job-share arrangement.  This is not necessarily just for returning mothers – the dynamics of employment are changing generally, with the ‘gig economy’ and new generations entering the workforce (for example, Millennials are thought to value work life balance above money).

Have effective policies and procedures in place.

Equality and Diversity Policy, Recruitment and Selection Policy (and associated pro formas), Maternity and Paternity Policies and Checklists, Risk Assessments, Shared Parental Leave, Flexible Working. Follow them, make sure line managers are following them, and make them available to all staff.

We can help you with these if you need them created or reviewed, or need advice on any aspect of HR!