What should you do if an employee on maternity leave needs to be covered?

Some job roles simply cannot be left on hold for the duration of maternity, that's why many employers seek contract staff to fulfil a role...

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Mar 14, 2024

When one of your employees goes on maternity leave, their statutory employment rights stay protected — including their right to return to their job after a justified leave of absence.

That can make finding a replacement for an expectant mum seem a little complicated, not to mention costly. But so long as you know the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of replacing employees on maternity leave, you can meet everyone’s needs.

Planning for maternity leave

A pregnant employee can raise various issues and challenges for your organisation, including:

  • The prospect of being without a key team member for up to 52 weeks
  • The cost of recruiting and paying a replacement, while also paying statutory maternity pay (SMP)
  • Managing the employee’s rights before and after leave, including holidays, SMP, flexible working and pension contributions

Start planning as soon as the employee tells you they’re pregnant, so you’re less likely to be caught without cover or to fall foul of the law.

Communicating and staying in touch

Talk to your employee about how much maternity leave they plan to take, and when they want to begin their maternity leave. Make sure you also keep in touch throughout their absence, so you’re aware of any changes to their plans and can adjust your own as needed.

In many cases, new mothers choose not to go back to their job at all. Make sure you’re prepared for this possibility.

Recruiting a replacement

Ordinary recruitment best practices apply when finding a temporary replacement, including having a clear job description. But in particular, make it clear the job is fixed term for the duration of your employee’s maternity leave.

Making a smooth transition

Prepare up-to-date person and job specifications by sitting down with the employee going on leave and talking through their current role and responsibilities.

Ideally, you also want smooth continuity between the employee going on leave and your new cover Try to arrange a day’s overlap between the start of the leave and the temp’s start date, so the employee going on leave can show them the ropes.

The right to return to work

Employees on ordinary maternity leave have the right to return to their job afterwards. The same goes for employees on ordinary adoption leave, ordinary paternity leave, additional paternity leave, or not-more-than four weeks of parental leave.

If it’s not possible for the employee to return to the same job, they must be offered a similar job — i.e. one with the same or better pay and conditions. Ideally then, you’ll want to manage replacements in a way that helps new mothers make a smooth return.

Welcoming employees back

During your employee’s maternity leave, you can arrange a maximum of 10 statutory (but optional) ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days on which the employee can come back into work. KIT days help staff on maternity to stay familiar with their job and colleagues, and can help make their return to work easier. KIT days don’t affect maternity leave or pay rights.

When an employee’s maternity leave is over, a phased approach is usually recommended. Both the employee and your organisation might have changed a lot in the months that have passed. It’s essential to avoid discriminating against the employee by helping them reacclimatise, usually by offering them part-time or flexible working at first.

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