Returning to work

A new baby changes everything. Although your employee may have been certain about her work choices before the birth, she may feel differently once the baby has been born.

She might want to work more or fewer hours than she originally intended, or perhaps she is considering an application for flexible working.

Regular communication while she’s away will help to make her return as smooth as possible.

As a supportive employer, working mums will enjoy working for you and your company will enjoy the benefits.

Returning to work after maternity leave

When your employee comes back to work after Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), she has a right to the same job and the same terms and conditions as if she hadn’t been absent.

The same applies when she returns after Additional Maternity Leave (AML), unless it is not reasonably practicable for her to return you to her original role. This might be if the role no longer exists, for instance.

If there’s a legitimate reason why your employee can’t return to her original job, you must offer her suitable alternative work, if it is available. This must be with the same or better terms and conditions as the role she had before going on maternity leave. Her new role should also be no less senior than her previous role.

Does she have to get in touch during her maternity leave?

If your employee takes her full maternity leave, she doesn’t need to give notice that she’s coming back, although she may choose to.

You and your employee may have agreed to arrange ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days. This is where she can work for up to 10 days during her maternity leave without affecting her right to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

If she decides not to return to work at all, she must give you contractual notice in the normal way. She can give this notice during her maternity leave if she wishes. If she does, it may impact on any enhanced maternity package that you provide.  

What if she wants or needs to change her plans?

Returning to work early

You must assume that your employee will take all her maternity leave, including Additional Maternity Leave (AML). If she doesn’t want to take all of her leave, she must give at least eight weeks’ notice that she’s returning to work early or if she wants to change the date of her return. If she doesn’t give correct notice, you can insist that she doesn’t return until the eight weeks have passed.

Returning to work late

If your employee can’t return to work at the end of her maternity leave because of illness, she should tell you in the normal way that she is off sick.

Can my employee request flexible working on her return?

Any employee who cares for an adult or a child has a statutory right to request flexible working. This includes flexible working hours, flexi-time, term-time or part-time working, job sharing, condensed working weeks and working from home.

Your employee is eligible to request flexible working if she has been continuously in your employment for 26 weeks or more when she applies. She is also only allowed to make one application for flexible working every 12 months.

Members of the armed forces and agency workers are not eligible to apply for flexible working.

Read more about flexible working here.

How do childcare vouchers work?

You can choose to offer your employee childcare vouchers to help with childcare costs. If you have a voluntary childcare vouchers scheme, you can give your employee up to £55 in childcare vouchers each week as part of her salary. These will be free of tax and NI contributions, as long as her earnings are not over the higher tax rate threshold. 

The Government is planning to phase in a scheme to end employer-supported childcare and introduce tax-free childcare for all eligible families instead. 

Breastfeeding at work: how can I support my employee?

Encourage your employee to let you know if she is planning to breastfeed her baby when she returns to work. This will help you plan how best to support her. Ideally, your employee will inform you in writing before the end of her maternity leave.

Once you know that your employee intends to breastfeed, you must carry out a risk assessment to identify risks to her as a breastfeeding mother or to her baby. If there are risks you must do all that is reasonable to remove the risks or make alternative arrangements for your employee. You must also provide suitable rest facilities.

Although there is no legal requirement to do so, you are encouraged to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk.

Can she take parental leave as well as maternity leave?

After her maternity leave, your employee can take unpaid parental leave to care for her child if necessary, as long as she meets the qualifying criteria.

Employees with one year’s service or longer are entitled to take 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child up to the child’s fifth birthday. If a child is adopted, this leave can be taken in the five years following the child’s placement. If the child is disabled, parental leave can be taken up to the 18th birthday.

Parental leave can only be taken in blocks of one week, unless you agree otherwise or the child is disabled. Your employee can take no more than four weeks of parental leave in one year.

Your employee should request parental leave in writing, giving at least 21 days’ notice. If she qualifies for parental leave, the request should be granted.

If you feel that her absence would disrupt your business, you can postpone the start date. However, you must inform her in writing within seven days of receiving her written request. This response should give your reasons for the postponement and the proposed new start date for the leave. You can’t delay the start of parental leave unduly and it should not be delayed by more than six months. You also can’t postpone the leave date more than once.

Parental leave straight after maternity leave

Your employee can take parental leave at the end of her maternity leave without affecting her right to return. She should be able to return to the same job unless that is not reasonably practicable. In that case, you must offer her suitable alternative work where available. The terms and conditions should be the same as if she hadn’t been absent.