The end of paternity or maternity leave is sometimes a stressful time for new parents. Knowing what you are and aren’t entitled to when you step back into the workplace is confusing, but it could make the difference between a stress-free return to work and one littered with worry and uncertainty.
Citizens Advice states that a woman can be on maternity leave for around 52 weeks in total (26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional leave). When it comes to retuning to work, there’s no need for a new mother to send a notice of return to her employer before going back, as long as she is returning on the date she negotiated originally. However, if she wants to return to work early, she must give her employer eight weeks’ notice and have this agreed before the new return-to-work date.
Going back to your job
When a woman returns to work after having a baby, she is entitled to return to her original post, if this position is still practical for her. If not, it’s up to the employer to find suitable alternative work for the new mother, and if they can’t, she could be entitled to redundancy pay.
Holidays and maternity leave
Another common issue for returning parents is holidays. Can you add these on to your maternity leave? Yes, it’s fine for mothers, and expectant mothers, to take a holiday directly before or after maternity leave, and many women do this to extend time off with their baby. However, taking a holiday after maternity leave means you’re still classed as ‘back at work’.
Another popular query is whether you can accrue holidays on maternity leave. Women build up holidays as normal while on maternity leave. Plus, if you’re unable to take your allocated holidays due to your maternity leave, your employer should allow these days to be carried over into the following holiday year.
With regard to sickness, if a new mother is too ill to return to work after her maternity leave, she must inform her employer.
A major issue for mothers returning to work is breastfeeding. If a parent wishes to breastfeed their child at work, they have to let their employer know in writing. It’s also best to give plenty of notice so that the employer has time to make arrangements, which could include:
- Carrying out risk assessments.
- Dealing with potential risks to the parent and child.
- Providing suitable facilities for breastfeeding.
It’s worth bearing in mind that employers are under no legal requirement to provide a breastfeeding space. However, they cannot stop you from returning to work due to breastfeeding. If your employer refuses to take action to protect your and your child’s health and safety during the breastfeeding process, seek advice on escalating this issue.
Employees have the right to request a flexible working pattern and many families benefit hugely from it. However, the worker must have been with the same employer for at least 26 weeks. Once you request flexible hours, your employer should assess the pros and cons, then hold a meeting to discuss it with you. If this doesn’t happen, you can potentially take them to an employment tribunal.
Types of flexible working:
- Job share: two people split the hours between one role.
- Work remotely: carrying out your role from home.
- Flexitime: choosing when you start and end your shift while adhering to core hours.
- Part-time: working less than full-time.
- Compressed hours: working full-time hours over fewer days.
- Staggered hours: having a different start, break and finish time to colleagues.
A typical timeline for requesting flexible working hours, includes:
- Writing to the employer.
- Allowing them up to three months to decide.
- Changing the contract (if new hours are agreed) or receiving a written explanation detailing the business reasons for the denial.
Flexible working hours can ease the cost of childcare, so it’s worth looking into, if you can.
In April 2015, parents gained more rights and flexibility for looking after their children after going back to work. Parental leave is a legal way for mothers and fathers to take time out of work to look after their children, and can include when parents need to spend more time with their kids, find new schools, visit family, and ease youngsters into new childcare environments.
According to GOV.UK, if an employee has completed one year’s service at a place of work, they are entitled to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for every child (biological or adopted). This unpaid leave can start either when the baby is born/child is adopted, or as soon as the worker has achieved one year’s service — whichever comes later. But it must be taken before the child turns five years old. If the child is disabled, the same amount of unpaid leave can be taken any time before their 18th birthday.
All employment rights — such as pay and holidays — are protected during unpaid parental leave. However, there are some regulations around this scheme:
- Each parent is limited to four weeks for each child per year (unless otherwise negotiated with the employer).
- Parental leave must be taken in whole weeks, not odd days (again, unless otherwise negotiated with the employer or if the child is disabled).
- This type of unpaid leave applies to the child and not the parent’s job, so it can’t be carried over once used.
- Parents must give 21 days’ notice prior to the start of the unpaid leave.
An employer is not allowed to delay unpaid parental leave without a significant reason regarding the business or if it would make the parent illegible (e.g. postponing it until after their child turns 18). If the leave is delayed, the employer is responsible for:
- Writing a letter of explanation within one week that details the reasons for the postponement.
- Suggesting a new date, which must be within six months of the previous date.
Many new parents fret about their working rights when it comes to unexpected problems. If there’s an urgent issue that affects the welfare of your child, such as childcare arrangements falling through last minute, you’re allowed to take unpaid time out of work to deal with these, too.
If you’re ever unsure about your rights as a working parent, check online organization and government sites to get a clearer idea.
- Gov.uk – Parental Leave
- Acas – Employment Advice
- Citizens Advice – Parental rights at work
- NCT – Breastfeeding and work