How can SMEs manage maternity or adoption cover?

The announcement of a pregnancy or adoption will normally be a joyful part of any employee’s life; but for the company, business must go on.

As an SME leader it is your role to balance the needs (and statutory rights) of your employee with your company’s operations.

With an array of rules to follow, managing maternity leave and cover is a key part of HR to get right. Your employee has obligations too, though.

Let’s take a quick look at what they are entitled to and must do, before exploring how you will plug the gap left by their maternity absence.

What your employee is entitled to

All pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ leave. Depending on their length of service with you, they may also be entitled to statutory maternity pay.

Adoptive parents are entitled to this too, but the notification is slightly different to register their date of being matched. It really is a good idea to have a policy which explains clearly the steps the prospective parent has to take and when.

Although everyone is entitled to 52 weeks leave, some staff return early or take shared parental leave with their partner – as only the first 39 are paid.

Some companies may choose to have a more generous contractual arrangement which would override the above statutory rules.

How you can manage their maternity absence

We advise that you start making plans as soon as possible, because as they say: Time does fly. Talking to the member of staff will help you decide the course of action. Although they do not have to make a decision at this point, an indication of their plans is helpful.

Early decisions to make are whether you will bring in a temporary replacement or rely on a rejig of your existing staff.

A temporary maternity hire could be the more effective solution. This may be an internal candidate who could take on the role. This is a good way of developing individuals, but make sure they know what will happen at the end of the cover period.

Alternatively you may decide to employ a temporary replacement. As with any recruitment process, ensuring you have a clear job description and person specification will help you find the right fit for your maternity cover.

A fixed term contract that allows for itself to be terminated in the event that the member of staff returns early is essential.

If you can arrange it so that the maternity cover’s start date overlaps with the person they are replacing, allowing for an in-person handover, so much the better.

A third way of managing their maternity absence is to outsource the role temporarily. For example, at The HR Dept this is a service we offer to businesses who have their HR manager off on maternity leave.

By having an outsourced team, rather than a temporary in-house hire, you save on recruitment costs and remove the risk of an individual person not being a good fit for you. It also allows for the flexibility of cover for shared parental leave or an early return. The same is possible for most roles: from marketing to finance.

Welcoming your employee back

Up to ten “keeping in touch” days are permissible without jeopardising maternity pay. If the employee is open to them, use this allowance. It is a great way to keep them in the loop and maintain your professional relationship with them. It will also help with their return from maternity leave.

The birth or adoption of a child, especially if it is a first one, is a significant change in anyone’s life. When they are due to return, organising a phased approach often works well.

Help with managing maternity leave

Never forget that employees on maternity or adoption leave enjoy considerably heightened employment law protections, including protection against redundancy. To avoid the risk of tribunal and financial penalties it is essential to follow the rules closely.

If you receive notice of maternity leave, or simply want help getting processes in place, please speak to The HR Dept.

How can we help?