According to a new report, one in three new mothers thinks that taking lengthy maternity leave has harmed her work prospects. Some think that, when they return to work the relationship they had previously with their boss has deteriorated.The research, carried out by the National Childbirth Trust found nearly four in ten mothers found things were very difficult when they returned to work after spending time off on maternity leave.
At present the amount of paid maternity leave in the UK is 39 weeks and Harriet Harman the Equality Minister is aiming to get this extended to a year. Now, whereas this may sound wonderful to some ears, to small businesses it can sound anything but. If you own a small business, employing a few people and want to be competitive in your field, you will obviously only employ the number of staff you need for the work you have. Should one of your team become pregnant and eventually take her maternity leave, what options are open to you?
Can her workload be taken on by other members of staff? Can you find a suitable temp who will fill in while the mother-to-be is off work? Can you add it to your already heavy workload?
If you can share her job between the other staff members, that’s great – but for how long? If she is going to be off for 39 weeks, what happens when your other staff want to take their holiday leave, or fall sick, what do you do then? What about the temp? If you are very lucky you may know someone who, after a minimal amount of training can do the job and things go swimmingly! Or you may have to resort to advertising for a replacement and, as we all know advertising is not cheap. If all else fails, you may go to a recruitment agency and ask them to supply a temporary worker to cover maternity leave. Here you come up against another set of costs all together. Apart from the initial fee, you will be paying in all probability, a much higher rate for your temporary worker than you did for your soon-to-be-mum.
Now, don’t start shouting, I am all in favour of rights for working women; I would love to see every woman paid the same as a man doing the same job, but I also own a family business and have spent many years building it up and can see all too clearly the other side of the coin. While the mum-to-be is off her holiday entitlement still accrues; you have to pay maternity pay and also a salary to her replacement and, after a set time, you have to give them paid holiday leave too. After the paid 39 weeks, in the UK the new mum can opt to take extra unpaid leave of another13 weeks, meaning she could be off for a year. In the meantime you have to cope as best you can, hoping that she will come back and eventually things will get back to normal.
But what if when she comes back, on her existing contract of employment, she announces that she can’t work full time. She has problems with childcare arrangments, she has to work because she needs the money, but actually quite likes having an extended weekend with hubby and child, so, please can she work part time? What do you do? Under the present legislation, an employee with a child under 16, has the right to ask for flexible working and, as an employer you have a duty to consider it. You don’t have to approve the request, but there is always the possibility perhaps, of being taken to an employment tribunal if you refuse. If you have done everything correctly, the case would be dismissed, but there is always the time and worry involved in preparing and defending it. Then when that is over, you have to hope that perhaps the temp, if you managed to find one,will stay, if not you start all over again.
So Ms Harman, on behalf of all businesses, both small and large, I would urge you to think very carefully before adding extra weeks to maternity leave, for it appears that it is not just the business owners who aren’t particularly enamoured with your ideology, the new mums don’t seem too happy either