Supporting Your Employees Through Maternity Leave

By Helen Shone, Sage HR Advice

Exciting times ahead

Supporting Your Employees Through Maternity LeaveOnce you’re told that one of your employees is having a baby, you’ll be hit with a range of emotions. It’s not that dissimilar to finding out that you’re expecting a child yourself!

First, you’re excited and pleased for your employee. But then you recognise that there’s a lot of work to be done to make the maternity process as smooth as possible, for your employee, yourself and the rest of your business.

With an effective process in place, you can limit the impact of an employee going off on maternity leave and become a valuable source of support for them in this eventful time.

Know your role

Firstly, make sure that you’re familiar with your responsibilities and the employee’s rights. This means that you’ll be in a great position to answer any questions they may have and offer useful guidance. In particular, read up on The Maternity Protection Act 1994 and the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004.

Always carry out a risk assessment where new or expectant mothers may be exposed to working conditions which may harm the baby.

Antenatal rights

She has the right to take time off with pay to attend any medical appointment related to her pregnancy.

For the second and subsequent appointments, it’s a good idea to ask for some evidence, like an appointment card. In addition to these medical appointments, she is also entitled to take time off, with pay, to attend all but the last three classes in a set of ante-natal classes. Remember to record any of these absences for antenatal appointments on the employee’s Absence record.

Maternity leave rights

When it comes to their actual maternity leave, the pregnant employee must give you at least four weeks’ notice of her intention to take maternity leave, and a medical certificate confirming the pregnancy due date. 

Use the Maternity notification form to ask for written notification that:

  • that she is pregnant;
  • her expected week of confinement (EWC)
  • the date when she intends to begin her maternity leave

All pregnant employees, regardless of their length of service, are entitled to a minimum of 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave and 16 weeks additional maternity leave. You don’t have to to pay employees whilst they are on maternity leave, unless the contract of employment says that they should be paid.

The start of maternity leave

The employee may start her maternity leave:

  • by notification at any time on or after the beginning of the 16th week before the expected week of childbirth;
  • at any time on or after the beginning of the 16th week before the expected week of childbirth;
  • on the first day after the beginning of the second week before the EWC; or 
  • with the birth of the child.

Expectation mothers cannot work any closer than two weeks before the due date and new mothers can’t work or return to work for four weeks after childbirth.

Keep in touch

It’s a good idea include those on maternity leave in all communications where the employee has agreed to this. Provided they agree, you can send newsletters, memos and job vacancy lists to the employee’s home address. Invite those on maternity leave to attend employer presentations if they occur during their absence.

Coming back

Your employee has to notify you in writing of her intention to return to work and the date she will return. If the employee wishes to return early from ordinary or additional maternity leave, she must give four weeks notice of her intention to return.

If the employee is too ill to return to work on the due date, manage the absence in the same way as any other sick leave.

An employee who returns after maternity leave is entitled to return to the same job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, to a suitable alternative job on terms no less favourable than the terms of her original job. Give careful consideration to any request to return to work on a part-time basis. A refusal could give rise to a gender discrimination claim and so must be justified on sound business grounds.

When it’s time for them to come back to work, try to make the process as easy for them as possible. Consider easing them back into the role with reduced hours to start with. A buddy system, where another employee helps them find their feet again for a few days, can also be a real help for them.

 Don’t forget the dads

Although there is no legal entitlement to paternity leave for most employees in Ireland, your male employees can request either paid or unpaid time off following the birth or adoption of a child as normal.

You simply need to follow your usual process for requesting annual leave, and it is at your discretion to decide whether he can take annual leave at a given time.

However, your male workers may be eligible for parental leave. To qualify for parental leave, the parent must generally have been employed by you for at least one year. At this point, he will be entitled to up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each child under the age of 8 (or 16 in the case of a child with a long-term illness).

If the employee’s child is very near to the relevant age threshold and the employee has been working for you for more than three months, but less than one year, he is entitled to pro-rata parental leave. This is one week’s leave for every month of employment completed. 

The employer does not have to agree to an application for a period of less than 6 continuous weeks, but can do so at its discretion.

Strong support

With your help, an employee can enjoy a smooth maternity leave period as they focus on preparing for a new baby. Most critical is your role as someone who cares and who has the answers to their concerns.  Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers straight away, just review your Sage HR Advice service and get back to them.

For more information or to take a product tour visit the Sage HR Advice page.

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  • Teresa

    great article, very helpful…i and my wife planning a pregnancy