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Maternity leave and going back to work

Going back to work as a mum, maternity leave, maternity rights and benefits and what you need to know when you return to your job

Posted: 24 August 2010
by ThinkBaby

Working while pregnant, maternity leave and working as a mum

You’re looking forward to your new life with your baby, but unfortunately, most of us also have to earn money – so what are you going to do about your job? Here’s what you need to know about leave, pay and returning to work after the birth…

Once you discover that you’re pregnant, you have certain legal obligations and benefits regarding work that you’ve probably not even thought about. ‘You must inform your employer of your pregnancy on or before the 15th week before your expected due date,’ says Lauren Harkin of Lemon and Co Solicitors. ‘However most pregnant employees do this sooner – usually in the 12th or 13th week of pregnancy.’ You’ll also need to give your employer a MATB1 certificate, which has details of your due date – this will be given to you by your midwife at around 21 weeks.

Benefits-wise, your employer should organise a risk assessment of your workplace to ensure you’re not doing anything that could be dangeerous, and give you paid time off to attend antenatal classes or appointments – although they can also ask for proof that that’s where you’ll be!

To put your mind at ease, you’ll have additional workplace protection: if you’re sacked for a reason related to your pregnancy, this is an automatic unfair dismissal. Your company’s disciplinary procedure for sickness absence should not apply to any pregnancy-related illnesses, and if there are redundancies during your maternity leave, you should be offered any suitable alternative vacancies.

Take a break

You’ll want to start thinking about when you want to take your maternity leave fairly early on. This can be any time from 11 weeks before your due date, and yes, you can also take your annual holiday entitlement before your maternity leave begins!

Since April 2007, all pregnant women are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. For the first six weeks you’ll receive 90 per cent of your normal pay (or statutory maternity pay if that’s higher). You will then receive statutory maternity pay (currently £123.06 per week) for the following 33 weeks, and the final 13 weeks are unpaid.

As for dads, they can take two consecutive weeks of paid paternity leave (at the same rate as statutory maternity pay) within eight weeks of the baby’s birth.

If you’re eager to get back to work, hold your horses – you can’t in the two weeks after the birth (four weeks if you work in a factory), but you can return any time after that. If you want to go back earlier than agreed, or if you want to extend your maternity leave, you must give your employer eight weeks’ notice.

Keeping in touch

"There is no legal obligation on the woman’s part to keep in contact with her employer while on leave," explains Chloe Carey, 33, founder of Handover HR expecting her first baby. "In fact, until the Work and Families Act 2006, best practice for employers was no contact at all." This is not the case now, however, as employers and the law recognise that it can be difficult to adjust when you get back, and “keeping in touch” days give you the option of working for up to 10 days during maternity leave.

Life coach Patricia Carswell advises: "I recommend keeping in regular contact with work while you’re on maternity leave; it avoids misunderstandings and reminds everyone that you’re still around and that you care about your job. This doesn’t mean constant visits, or that you have to tell your boss straight away what your plans are – it’s more a question of keeping the lines of communication open. How you go about it depends on the working environment – usually the odd email is enough."

Once the baby’s born, you may want to introduce your new arrival to your workmates. Career psychologist Sherridan Hughes, a mother of twins, says: "Maternity leave is definitely the right time to show off and for colleagues to coo, but only go in at lunchtime or at the end of the day so you don’t disrupt them too much!"

Back to work

When the time comes to go return to your job, flexible working may be an option. This describes any working pattern that’s been adapted to suit an individual’s needs – so it can mean compressed hours (working your contracted hours over fewer days), flexitime (where you choose your hours of work – though there is usually a ‘core’ period when you must be working), job sharing or working from home. All parents of children under six can request flexible working, and employers must consider it providing the employee has been employed continuously for 26 weeks. If you think this might be an option, DirectGov offers an interactive online tool to help you select a working pattern that might be right for you.

Even if flexible working’s not a long-term option, you may want to consider reducing your hours. Sherridan advises: "A part-time return is perhaps the best bet initially. It will break you both in and not lead to so much angst and guilt – and perhaps jealousy of the person who’s caring for your baby."

Childcare issues

It’s reassuring to know that, if employed by the same company for a year or more, parents of children under five have a statutory right to take unpaid time off work to care for them– 13 weeks in total for each child until their fifth birthday, but no more than four weeks in a year. However, the government requires that you give 21 days’ notice if you intend to take this parental leave, which must be booked in week-long blocks, so this cannot be used in emergencies.

But as we all know, last-minute crises do crop up. Fortunately, everybody is entitled to time off work to deal with emergencies involving ‘dependants’ – a spouse or parent as well as a child. You can take this time off regardless of your length of service, but you should let your employer know as soon as you can and try to cause as little disruption to your workplace as possible. So if your child’s carer suddenly develops chickenpox, rather than dashing out of the office and disappearing for a fortnight, see if a grandparent can do a spot of babysitting while you look for a replacement.

If you're choosing your options, check out our guide to childcare.

Settling in

When you’re back at work, remember that it’s good to talk, particularly if problems arise. If it’s your boss being difficult, address the situation. Patricia suggests: "If your boss isn’t supportive, don’t moan about it behind his or her back; deal with the problem. If you’re working fewer hours this may be putting more of a burden on your colleagues, so be tactful, but don’t feel you need to be apologetic. The law is usually on your side and you are entitled to expect a level of support."

If you’ve had to take time off and your employer thinks it’s been placing excessive strain on the business, they have to tell you so, and you will need to work together to develop a solution to the situation.

Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible that you’ll feel isolated and out-of-touch, but don’t feel you have to do everything by yourself. Chat to the people who covered your role; remind your contacts that you’re back in the hotseat; catch up on major developments in your field.

Whatever decision you make, don’t force yourself to persist with it if it’s not working out. Patricia says: ‘Remember that whatever you decide about work, it’s rarely irreversible. Be prepared to be flexible and to change your mind. Knowing that it’s not a decision for life can help you with any doubts that may linger after you’ve made up your mind.’

Community Legal Advice

Try this free legal aid service for queries on employment, money and benefits: call 0845 345 4345 or visit Community Legal Advice.

Going back to work tips

  • Don’t feel guilty. Sherridan Hughes says: ‘I certainly felt that I gave more quality time to my twins when I had had a break from them.’
  • Do a trial run. See how long it takes to get you both ready, travel to the carer and then on to work.
  • Write a checklist of things you need to take to the carer, and organise a bag the night before so that you’re not scrabbling around in the morning.
  • Stay focused at work. Don’t keep ringing the carer or bringing out the baby pics every five minutes!
  • Look the part. ‘Turn up well-presented and, as far as possible, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, however many times you’ve had to get up in the night!’ says Sherridan.

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