Every woman in the UK who is an employee (not a worker) is entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave. You have a legal right to come back to your old job under the same terms and conditions as if you hadn’t been away and this entitlement applies whether you have taken Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave) or Additional Maternity Leave (the last 26 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave). Although you don’t have to take the full 52 weeks – and many women choose not to – you must take at least two weeks off after the birth, or up to four weeks if you work in a factory.
What Are The Problems?
This all may seem rather straightforward, but in reality, many women find that unexpected problems and issues can arise when they make that return to work. In fact, a survey by the National Childbirth Trust found that 30,000 women a year left their jobs because of pregnancy discrimination and one in three mothers found that employers were not supportive after they returned to work. Around the same number said their relationship with their boss had gone downhill since having a baby and felt their leave and promotion prospects had been damaged.
To many, this may come as a surprise. Maternity leave is a well- established legal right, so what are the problems? And where do they come from?
“Many of the problems that arise between women returning from maternity leave and their employers are down to poor communication and bad planning,” says Harriet Broughton, an employment lawyer with Bevans in Bristol.
“Women have been away from the office for up to a year and often there has been very little contact during that time. When they come back, they can feel out of the loop or sidelined and sometimes feel their employer is not supportive of a more flexible working pattern.
“I’d advise women and employers to aim to keep an open dialogue during maternity leave, so both parties feel in the picture,” says Ms Broughton. “And before you go on maternity leave, keep a record of all meetings and get any agreements in writing from your boss.”
The major sources of friction were either women returning to work and finding their job has changed, that the organisation has been restructured, or employers have refused a flexible working pattern.
Keeping In Touch
In order to combat this, the government introduced ‘keeping in touch days’, where employees can work up to ten days during their maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave. Keeping in touch days are optional, both the employee and employer need to agree to them. The type of work and pay employees get should be agreed before they come into work, and the employee’s right to maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave isn’t affected by taking these keeping in touch days. It is also beneficial for those taking maternity leave to ask to be kept informed of any opportunities for promotion or new vacancies – you are still entitled to apply whilst on maternity leave. Most importantly, keep to the rules and give your employer notice of when you intend to return to work. Employers assume you will take the full 52 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave, and if you do so, you don’t have to give notice that you are returning. If you do decide you want to come back earlier you must give eight weeks notice.
Is It Worth It?
Notwithstanding the normal problems resulting from the feeling of no longer ‘being in the loop’ at work, many new mothers will no doubt ask themselves whether it is even worth it to return to employment on a financial level. Childcare is expensive, especially if relatives are not around to lend a helping hand. However, the government does provide extra tax credits to encourage mothers back to work. You are entitled up to £122.50 a week for one child, and up to £210 a week for two children or more, which can help pay towards those steep childcare costs. How much you get depends on factors such as your income and how often and for how long you have paid for childcare. Usually you’ll qualify for childcare tax credits if the following applies: You qualify for Working Tax Credit, you’re responsible for the child, the childcare you pay for is registered or approved and you work the right number of hours for childcare tax credits (at least 16 hours a week). These extra tax credits are not designed to pay all of your childcare costs, it is likely that you will still need to contribute yourself. You can also get childcare vouchers from your employer and new mothers are also entitled to the Sure Start Maternity Grant to help towards the costs of having a child, as well as child benefit − either by week or by month.