As an employer, it is essential to know your responsibilities and create a maternity leave policy that is both fair and legal. However, we would go further to say that your maternity and paternity leave policy can strongly influence your employer branding, and your ability to attract and retain the best talent. As such, it’s important that statutory maternity leave policies for small businesses can compete with larger organisations, and make things clear and simple.
Read on to find out more about the best maternity leave policies for small organisations, covering everything from employee maternity leave rights to the relevant employment rights after maternity leave is finished.
Maternity leave rights
Statutory maternity leave is the time off work given to new mothers.
So, how long is maternity leave in the UK? Maternity leave is made up of two parts, totalling one year:
- Ordinary Maternity Leave – the first 26 weeks
- Additional Maternity Leave – the second 26 weeks
Taking maternity leave is largely down to the individual worker. However, after birth, all new mothers must take a minimum of two weeks’ leave following the birth. Factory workers must take a minimum of four weeks.
The key fact for employers to note is that an individual’s employment rights are protected while they are on maternity leave. These employment rights are broad and include things such as a right to accrue holiday, right to pay rises, rights around redundancy and employee rights returning from maternity leave.
Maternity leave for new employees is exactly the same as maternity leave for established employees, but their rights to maternity pay are different. For this they must be working for you in the 15th week before the baby is due and have worked for you for at least 26 weeks before that.
Who is eligible for maternity leave?
All pregnant employees are entitled to maternity leave, assuming they give you the right notice via a written request. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve worked for you, or how often they work, or what they are paid. Information about all key requirements should be written into maternity leave policies so that both sides understand the process.
Workers, unlike employees, may not be entitled to maternity leave. This includes agency workers and casual workers.
To qualify for maternity leave, employees should submit a written request for leave at least 15 weeks before their due date. They need to include confirmation of the pregnancy and the baby’s due date (from a MATB1 form supplied by the pregnant mother’s healthcare team) as well as the requested start and end date (which may change, with eight weeks’ notice).
The earliest that pregnant employees can start maternity leave is 11 weeks before the expected due date. In reality, most pregnant employees choose to start it later, but it will depend on their health and how their pregnancy is going.
If you aren’t given enough notice, and there’s no reasonable excuse, you as the employer may choose to delay maternity leave up to the day after the baby is born. In reality, maternity leave policies should enable clear discussion between employees and employers to prevent difficult situations for both sides.
Allowing for the unexpected
When writing your small organisation maternity leave policy, you should take into account the process involved if there are unexpected events or complications.
It’s important to note that an employee is still entitled to maternity leave if their baby is premature, stillborn or dies after birth.
Additionally, you need to factor into your policy what happens in the event of sickness during pregnancy, especially in the later stages. Crucially, if an employee is off work with pregnancy related illness in the four weeks before the expected due date then the maternity leave should immediately begin. This is called the ‘sickness trigger’.
Furthermore, your maternity policy should link to your sickness policy. For example, if an illness is pregnancy related, it must be recorded as such and cannot be used in employment decisions in the same way as other illnesses. It absolutely cannot be counted towards decisions for redundancy.
Maternity leave policies for small companies
With fewer employees and resources, it can be harder for small organisations to manage maternity leave and pay, especially in terms of offering above statutory maternity pay. However, in terms of statutory maternity pay, you should be able to claim back most if not all of it back from HMRC. Indeed, if you are eligible for Small Employers’ Relief then you can claim back up to 103% of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).
Maternity pay should also be addressed within the maternity leave policy. Different rules apply here and new employees have to have worked for you for 26 weeks and be working for you 15 weeks before the expected due date to qualify. Employees must earn at least £116 per week. SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks. However, many employers choose to offer enhanced maternity pay.
For many small employers, this is where things start to get particularly tricky. Larger employers can attract and retain the best talent by offering benefits packages that include things such as enhanced maternity pay. As a small employer, you need to consider how to compete with these employers without having the same resources at your disposal.
As SMP is 90% of an employee’s pre-tax average weekly earnings for just six weeks and a maximum of £145.18 a week for a further 33 weeks, it’s easy to see how maternity pay such as full pay for six months is much more attractive to many employees, but almost impossible for small employers to compete with.
Keeping in Touch (KIT) days
Lastly, small businesses should include KIT days in their maternity leave policies. Employees can work up to 10 paid KIT days during maternity leave. You cannot demand that an employee uses KIT days. They can be used to support cover workers, training, or to discuss things such as their return to work.
Additionally, you have a responsibility to give employees on maternity leave sufficient notice to apply for promotions, affording them the same opportunities as others. You must also notify them of any organisational restructuring that may affect them.
At Bloss Business, we offer coaching for businesses to support parents and parents-to-be in the organisation. Find out more about how Bloss can help your small business compete with bigger ones as family friendly workplaces.
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