Maternity Myths

May 29, 2012

Many of my clients have had it drummed into them over the years (not just by me!) that they have to be very, very careful when dealing with pregnant employees.  This has resulted in some employers becoming all but paralysed when they find they have a pregnant employee on their staff, believing that it is impossible to do anything that might impact on that individual during the period of pregnancy and maternity leave , which could span the best part of two years.  However, this is not actually true!  Your business still needs to run, and the law recognises that, so to help you understand what you can do, and to explode a few myths, please read on…

1.Time off during pregnancy
Once an employee tells you that they are pregnant, you will need to allow them time off to attend ante-natal appointments.  That is the law.  The law doesn’t however require you to grant time off for other ante natal activities, except medical appointments of course, so what falls into this category?   Parentcraft classes, exercise classes and any other voluntary activity that your pregnant employee would like to participate in to help her with her pregnancy do not qualify for time off.  If your employee tells you that she had been medically advised to attend such activities you would be well within your rights to request a letter from the GP before deciding whether or not to agree.  Remember though, what you agree to for one employee will set a precedent for the future.

2.  Taking disciplinary action whilst an employee is on maternity leave
Circumstances sometimes arise when you discover that an employee has breached your company rules either before or after they have gone on maternity leave and, in normal circumstances, you would be taking disciplinary action.  What can you do?  The law says that you should treat your pregnant employees in the same way as any other employees, so, if the alleged offence is such that you feel disciplinary action is necessary, then you should proceed with this in the normal way.  Be mindful, however, of the impact of taking such action on the employee, and if there is a suggestion that it may be affecting the pregnancy, then get a medical opinion before proceeding.

3.    Redundancy and maternity
With the regrettably high number of redundancies that have occurred over the past few years, there have been a number of employees on maternity leave who have been affected by this too.  Again, the pregnant employee or the employee on maternity leave needs to be treated in the same way as all other employees through the redundancy process and must be fully consulted and invited in for the relevant meetings as if she was attending work.  If her role is redundant then she may be dismissed, although you will be well advised to continue to pay maternity pay until the entitlement expires, even though the termination date may be before this.  Do be sure though, that if there are roles available as a result of a redundancy exercise for which your pregnant employee wishes to be considered, you will need to give her prior consideration for the role.  However, if she does not possess the right skills then you don’t have to create anything for her just because she is pregnant!

4.  Rights of employees on return from maternity leave
There is a requirement on the employer to allow a pregnant employee to return to the same role if they return to work after ordinary maternity leave, with the same terms and conditions of employment.  If an employee returns after taking additional maternity leave then these rights are lessened, and the employer only has a duty to offer a suitable alternative role if it is not practicable to offer the same role, with no less favourable terms, as the business needs have moved on or changed.  Similarly, as an employer you are not required to agree to a request for part-time hours from a maternity leave returner – so don’t be pushed into something that is untenable for your business!  You also have a responsibility for your other employees.

The golden rule is to treat your pregnant employee in the same way as existing employees, make sure that they are kept fully informed of events whilst they are on maternity leave, encourage them to attend keeping in touch days, but don’t be afraid to tackle issues if they arise during this period.  For further guidance on maternity leave provisions contact jenny@hitchinhr.co.uk