We are reading more and more often about maternity discrimination is the headlines. The spotlight has been concentrated even more on this topic after the shocking report published last month by the Equality & Human Rights Commission. It showed that around 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs in the UK each year through unfair discrimination in the workplace.

Here I discuss the Top 10 Tips for employers to ensure that pregnant employees and their maternity leave is properly managed.

  1. Communication is Key – It is good practice to talk to an employee about her rights and entitlements. If there is a maternity leave policy talk to her about her plans – when she expects to finish, how long she will be taking off etc. Nothing needs to be set in stone, but it will simply help to avoid confusion and any misunderstandings and hopefully ensure that both parties know exactly where they stand. It will also help you to plan and manage her pregnancy and leave accordingly.
  1. Update Risk Assessments – Once you have been notified of a pregnancy, you should carry out a risk assessment for that employee. You are then under an obligation to do all that is reasonable to remove or prevent exposure to any significant risk that has been found as a result that assessment. Make sure that the risk assessment is reviewed at regular intervals during the employee’s pregnancy. In 9 out of 10 cases it is likely that nothing will need to change, however, the employee may require an adjusted to her work station or role, such as a different chair, to be placed on light duties or home working, as their pregnancy progresses.
  1. Training, Policies & Procedures – Policies and procedures are there to be adhered to so make sure you so not stray from what is set out in the same and if you do ensure that the reason for the same is documented and agreed with the employee. Training and knowledge of the procedures for management and supervisors is essential – they need to know any maternity policy inside out and understand the obligations of the business and the rights that the employee has during this time.
  1. Effective Planning, Awareness & Action – Speak to the employee’s direct supervisor, line manager and other members of the employee’s team to gauge their views on the best arrangements for cover of the employee’s leave. There are a number of options, whether that be hiring a temp, internal recruitment, a secondment or changes to internal roles – it just depends which of these will work best for your business. As a priority, if the employee’s work is to be redistributed amongst other staff you should take care that cover arrangements do not create resentment if colleagues end up with an increased workload. This can affect working relationships and impact on work and morale.
  1. Ante-natal Care – Allow your employee to take reasonable paid time (at her normal hourly rate of pay) off for antenatal care.  They are entitled to do so where they have been advised to attend by a registered doctor, midwife or health visitor.
  1. Record Pregnancy-Related Illness Separately – Any sick leave that the employee takes due to a pregnancy-related illness must be record separately. The reason is that it must not count towards an employee’s total sickness absence record or be used as a reason for disciplinary action or redundancy selection, even where that action is being taken after the woman has returned to work.
  1. ‘Keeping-in-Touch’ Days – An employee on maternity leave may carry out up to 10 days’ work for you without bringing their maternity leave or pay to an end. It is very important to note though, that participation in these days are completely voluntary, but may be a good way for the employee to be kept in the loop, and they can coincide with days on which team meetings or training sessions are being held. You cannot require an employee to work a KIT day, nor does she have the right to work without your agreement.
  1. Communication during Maternity Leave – An employer may make reasonable contact with the employee during their maternity leave and to reiterate, it is good to have a chat with the employee prior to her maternity leave to obtain her view on how much contact she would like and the best method of doing so, i.e. by email, letter or phone. She should be informed of vacancies and promotion opportunities which arise during her maternity leave and should also be sent information about social events, training courses and receive any newsletters of bulletins which are sent to other members of staff.
  1. Changes to Role – An employee who has taken up to 26 weeks’ maternity leave has the right to return to the same job as before. If she has taken over 26 weeks’ leave this is slightly different as she has the right to return to the same job, unless it is not reasonably practicable for her to do so, in which case appropriate similar employment must be offered.  The employee should, therefore, be kept informed of any proposed changes to her role whilst she is on maternity leave, such as if a restructure or redundancy situation arises.
  1. Unfair treatment is discrimination – It is discrimination to treat a woman less favourably on the grounds of her pregnancy or maternity leave. Less favourable treatment includes refusal to offer training or promotion opportunities, reducing pay or hours, putting pressure on to resign or demoting the employee upon their return to work.

Danielle is a specialist pregnancy and maternity discrimination lawyer in the Employment team. She runs law employment clinics to provide free advice for both employers and employees. The Keeping Mum campaign is aimed to help everyone understand their legal rights and responsibilities surrounding maternity leave and pregnancy in the workplace. Find out more about the Keeping Mum campaign here.

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