10 Tips for Returning from Maternity Leave

by Nicola Welchman

Nicola Welchman employment solicitor

You are a highly respected professional – you are trusted by the directors; you have recruited a fantastic team; you achieved all your KPIs for the last 5 years and you were on target for a bonus to be paid at 120% of target.  You’re tipped for a promotion.All is good.

The pregnancy was a bit of a shock. Welcome, but a shock.  When you told your boss, he needed a moment before he congratulated you.  You worked until 39 weeks pregnant – you worked the same crazy hours as before bump.  You were always late for your mid-wife appointments as you rushed from the office.

The baby wasn’t going to change a thing. Your maternity cover was going to do just fine – particularly with your handover notes that would take her through to Q2. 

9 months later….

 

Hi John

I hope you have had a great summer. I emailed  you a few months back but I guess you might have missed the message.  

As you know I am due back next month, just wanted to arrange for a call to confirm.

Looking forward to getting back to work…

Best

 

***

 

“Dear Nina

Thank for your email, I hope that you and the baby are well.

You will be aware that there have been some changes over the course of the last 9 months.  I suggest that we arrange for you to come into the office for a meeting. Our HR Director, Mary Simmons will be in attendance.  

You are entitled to bring a work place colleague or trade union rep…..”

***

Pregnancy & maternity discrimination

 

Whaaaaat… ? You’re good friends… he came to your wedding….

 

This is a familiar story to me – I suppose that I only hear about those with a fallout. The employee with supportive employers celebrating her return rarely will need to seek legal advice.  

As an employment lawyer who specialises in discrimination claims I have witnessed some shocking situations.  I love meeting new babies, but meeting a two week old because her mum has just been sacked isn’t the best introduction.

As  a mother returning from maternity leave, a ‘returner’ you have rights to come back to your existing job (if you return following your ordinary maternity leave) and to a no less favourable job if you return following your additional maternity leave.   If a redundancy situation occurs you should have the protection of being offered a suitable role, but often the situation is manipulated so that there isn’t one… “there is now a significant travel element to the role which will mean travelling to the offices in New York and Newquay up to three times a month….”

 The other common situation is that your maternity cover is preferred.  “Edwardo is such a great talent and flexible (read no kids) – you were right to promote him. The thing is he talked about leaving, so we offered him a permanent role and more money.” (Yup, your job and more money than we paid you).

Those situations may give rise to a claim in the employment tribunal for discrimination.  The problem is often the difficulty in proving that something unlawful happened and, to cap it all, you need to move fast – the time limit gives you three months less one day to take formal action – and that time limit runs from the date of the decision, not when you were told about it months later (although judges get to exercise their discretion if it’s fair to both sides.)

You can’t prevent any of this from happening but often being forearmed will mean that you are for-warned.

 

Here are my survival tips:

 1. Before maternity leave, discuss how you would like to be kept in the loop during your time away.

 2. Keep close to someone on the inside track – this way you may be first to know about any restructures;

 3. Use your keep-in-touch days;

 4. If you think that you have been subjected to discriminatory treatment, seek legal advice as soon as possible as a strict three month time limit applies

5. If the worst scenario happens, do you want to go back? If you don’t, do you have to pay back your maternity pay? Is the relationship salvageable? You may be hurt when trusted colleagues let you down but accepting their failures may be the best way to get back in the workplace;  

 6. Negotiate an exit – a specialist employment lawyer can take the lead on the negotiations for you to ensure that the amount you are offered is maximised and that the terms offered are fair and do not disadvantage you;

 7. Linked to this, do you want another baby soonish? It is important – you need to be in your job for around 9 months before the baby is due to  be eligible for SMP and often longer if your employer offered enhanced maternity benefits. You also won’t have the right to make a flexible working request until you have been employed for 6 months.

 8. Be realistic about your flexible working request – informally map out a proposal and run it by your boss and don’t ask for what you won’t get – 2 days in the office: 2 at home won’t work if you have a client facing role; offer solutions to avoid employer’s anxieties;

 9. Keep some holiday back for when you have an inevitable child care crisis – your kids will be sick A LOT during their first winter in childcare

 10. Remember that your partner will have parental leave rights too – shared parental leave, time off for dependents, flexible working requests are not an exclusive female/ birth parent domain.

 


Next steps

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