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Keep calm! I’m going on maternity leave!

maternity leaveSo one of your employees has just dropped the bombshell – she’s pregnant!

Of course, you’re delighted for her, but you’ve probably got loads of questions running round your mind, how am I going to cope without her, how will I be able to find someone to replace her, what do I do if she doesn’t want to come back?

For a small business, the prospect of a key member of staff being away for up to a year can seem daunting. Don’t worry, with a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to manage just fine, it
doesn’t have to be the problem you’re probably envisaging at the moment.

Once thing you need to ensure you’re on top of, and that is the rules and regulations concerning pregnant women and working mums (and dads). As an employer, you have to think about flexible working, working conditions for pregnant women, maternity leave, holiday pay…the list goes on. So it could be worth seeking some professional advice if you aren’t sure, rather than risk getting anything wrong.

Your employee is allowed time off for antenatal care, such as hospital appointments. Their maternity leave can begin 11 weeks before their expected due date, and eligible employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave – they don’t have to take it all but have to take at least 2 weeks after the birth (or 4 weeks if they are a factory worker).

Statutory maternity pay can be claimed by eligible employees for 39 weeks (6 weeks at 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax, and 33 weeks at £139.58 or 90% of their average weekly earnings whichever is lower). Employers pay statutory maternity pay to the employee, and if your business pays less than £45,000 in annual NI contributions, you can claim all of it back plus 3%. This is deducted from tax payable to HMRC.

Recruiting a temporary replacement will probably be something that’s top of your to-do list, and also something you’ll have to budget for. There may be recruitment fees to pay, as well as potentially two salaries at once, as you will probably want to ensure there’s a handover period before your member of staff leaves. Ensure that you ask your employee to write things down as she goes, starting as soon as she’s let you know that she’s pregnant, so that everything is covered, and there’s no rush at the end (and in case the baby arrives early!). It might be worth involving existing employees with the handover process, especially if you want them to shoulder some extra tasks.

It’s important to keep in touch with your employee after she’s given birth, she can work up to ten ‘keeping in touch’ days without affecting her pay, ensuring she still feels involved with the business.

Of course, your employee may change their plans after giving birth, but it’s important that you are open, honest and supportive throughout the pregnancy and afterwards – taking a flexible approach will show that you value your employee, and they will be more likely to return after their leave ends. When she does return, it’s worth phasing the number of days she’s due to work, perhaps only one or two days a week to begin with so as not to overwhelm her.

With a careful bit of planning and preparation your employee’s pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work should go smoothly for both of you.

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