Most employers will have a member of staff on maternity leave at some point, and a well-managed return to work will pay dividends in staff loyalty and retention. Here we take a look at five of the employment law aspects of the return process that we recommend employers should consider before a new mother returns from maternity leave.
- Conduct a risk assessment
If a new mother has given birth in the last six months or is breastfeeding, there could be a risk to her or her baby. Risks are likely to be greater if the job involves a manual element, or a harsh working environment. It is therefore important to conduct a pre-return risk assessment to decide what (if any) actions are needed to avoid any increased risks.
- Consider changes to working conditions
If the risk assessment identifies any risks to the health and safety of the new mother or her baby, you must deal with those risks. If that is not possible, you must alter the employee’s working conditions or hours of work, or offer suitable alternative work. Otherwise, you must suspend the employee with pay.
- Deal with requests for flexible or part-time working
New mothers may want a more flexible working pattern to manage their work and family responsibilities. All requests for reduced working hours, flexitime, annualised hours, job sharing, part-time work or permission to work from home fall within the flexible working rules. This means that you must consider all requests in a “reasonable manner” and can only reject requests on certain grounds. Having a Flexible Working policy in place will help you treat all employees consistently and fairly, particularly when it comes to requests from male and female employees where sex discrimination claims could arise.
- Reallocate work and restore employee’s old job
Normally you must arrange for a new mother to return to the same job she held before her maternity leave began. This right to return is however subject to the requirement in 2 above for you to identify any risks to the new mother or her baby.
- Provide breastfeeding facilities for new mothers
You must provide suitable facilities for a breastfeeding mother to rest, but are not required to make any other special arrangements. Breastfeeding mothers are not entitled to additional time off beyond agreed lunch breaks and a 20-minute rest period when working six hours or more. However, an employer’s unreasonable refusal to provide mother to breastfeed her baby or to express milk may be sex discrimination.
If you are concerned about returning to work following maternity leave or perhaps you are an employer who would like to ensure you have the correct procedure in place, contact us today for a FREE 30 minute consultation with one of our experts employment law solicitors.
The Backhouse Solicitors Team