April 22, 2019

Maternity leave and your business: The low-down

Maternity leave can present a tricky problem to the small business. In smaller firms, individual employees often fill multiple roles, so losing a sales director can also mean losing your marketing manager and your new business handler – and, perhaps, the only person who knows how your CRM software works. This can make it difficult to find suitable temporary replacements, causing all sorts of HR headaches in the process.

At the same time, people working for small firms tend to have a closer and more personal relationship to the company, and naturally you want to do all you can to support the people who’ve helped to grow your business. So how should small firms’ HR managers manage maternity leave in a positive way? The key is proper planning, and an awareness of the responsibilities that apply to every business.

What are your responsibilities?

Under UK law, all pregnant employees with an employment contract have the right to take up to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave. This breaks down as “Ordinary maternity leave” for the first 26 weeks, and “Additional maternity leave” for the remaining 26. The earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected date of the birth, although this can change if the baby is born early.

Statutory Maternity Pay must be provided for up to 39 of these weeks, if the employee has worked for you continuously for 26 weeks or more. For the first six weeks, this is calculated as 90% of their average weekly earnings, and for the next 33 it is £139.58 or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

There is some good news for some employers: if your business’s annual National Insurance Contributions are less than £45,000, you can claim all of the Statutory Maternity Pay back, plus three per cent.

You can use the government’s Statutory Maternity Pay calculator to find out how much you will need to pay any employee.

How should you prepare?

To minimise disruption to your business, you should ideally start preparing as soon as possible – at least as soon as the employee tells you she is pregnant. If you know an employee is trying for a baby, you’ll have even longer to consider options. Get all the important details of the employee’s role, responsibilities and work-critical skills in writing to make it easier to find a potential replacement.

A temporary replacement should, ideally, be brought in a few days before the pregnant employee’s leave is due to start – this will make the handover smoother. Remember that employees on maternity leave can have up to ten statutory keep in touch (KIT) days, which can be a useful time to address any issues the replacement is having.

In some cases, you may not be able to find a suitable replacement, or may not have the resources to do so. This will likely mean giving additional responsibilities to your existing staff. Again, taking action early is the best way to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible – nobody likes being given a laundry list of extra work to do at the last minute.

Interested in a career in HR? Consider studying GSM London’s BSc (Hons) Human Resources with Management course to equip yourself with the skills you need for this area of business.

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