Let’s be honest, it is the moment that many owners of a small business absolutely dread – the announcement that a key member of staff is pregnant!

Maternity leave is a mixed bag – it brings joy, concern, happiness and stress for all concerned. As an employer, you don’t want to focus too much on what a gap your employee will leave because the last thing you want is to have them feeling any sense of guilt over having a child!

What are the legalities of maternity leave?

There is certainly a lot of help on hand for the latter, whether you look at ACAS or use an HR Consultant to help you navigate your way through.

However you do have to identify two key factors for yourself; how you wish to interpret and implement what is legally right versus what culture you have and secondly how you plan for your business to continue to grow and flourish in a person’s absence. The second point is even more challenging when they are truly central to your business.

The law is fairly transparent over what a company has to do in terms of pay for antenatal appointments, when mat leave starts, holiday entitlement etc but speaking from not just this but my own personal experience of having two children, pregnancy is not always plain sailing for a person and can cause severe tiredness, feelings of being unwell but also uncertainty and fear.

What’s more, particularly when having a first child, the employee is going through one of the, if not the, most life changing experiences they will ever have and this cannot be underestimated.

Personally, I have felt that it is really important to try and be as understanding and flexible as possible and to be open and transparent with communication. It is key for both parties to be aware of each other’s expectations and keep chatting as things progress. I think it is fair to say that the circumstances can change very quickly and at any time so the sooner a plan is put in place the better!

What about maternity cover?

Many companies decide that they will cover the person’s maternity leave with a “maternity cover” which is generally a fixed term contract for the length of time that is anticipated to be required ranging from 6 months to 12 months. The role is advertised as such and it must be made clear to the candidates that this is only a fixed term role, not permanent. It is useful to source people who already have the skill set that the existing job role entails so as to ensure a smooth transition and the ability to hit the ground running.

So for us, “maternity cover” isn’t really a viable option and currently these shorter term contracts are very hard to fill in a market where permanent employment is readily available.

I had to think about what else I could do within our team whereby we could continue to work effectively through the absence at the same time as leaving the role available.

I am fortunate that I have a very robust and skilled team and one in particular has been receiving training for several months in order to absorb extra work. Others in the team, including myself, will also pick up any surplus and this gives everyone a chance to enhance and develop their own knowledge.

In addition, we decided to recruit a new Apprentice Recruitment Administrator which has helped us to delegate certain tasks which free up time to take on any extra duties needed.

This piece of recruitment will mean further growth in the future when our colleague returns from maternity leave.

Top tips

We are now nearing the time that maternity leave starts and we are all very excited for their next chapter.  We will miss having our team member in the office every day but feel ready and well equipped. My advice would be;

  • Get familiar with the law quickly
  • Decide how you will approach this situation within your culture – for example will you allow them to carry over holiday or follow the letter of the law?
  • Make a plan and get your team on board
  • Be transparent and open with your employee and communicate regularly
  • Expect the unexpected 
  • Embrace the change and support your people