Employment lawyer and mum-of-one Marsha Thompson gives her top tips for going back to work after maternity leave.
If you're about to return to work from maternity leave, the mere thought of returning can be daunting to say the least. You may have just spent the last nine months or so in a haze of changing nappies, feeding, rocking and playing with the baby on little or no sleep! Good times.
And then the time comes for you to go back to work... This can be a difficult time for many mothers who might face the prospect of leaving their little bundles of joy with another caregiver. Other mothers cannot wait to get back into the "adult world" understandably, as there are only so many one-sided conversations you can have with a baby. That said, even these mums may still find the separation difficult at first.
You may feel guilty about going back to work and abandoning your little one or you may feel guilty about wanting to go back to work. The reality is, going back into the workplace will be a challenge whether you're a highly organised "super mum" or a more easy going mummy. The only way to make the process easier is to plan ahead and mentally/physically prepare yourself for the return.
Here are some tips to consider:
1. Return to Work Date
Think carefully about when you want to return to work. Do you want to go back after your ordinary maternity leave or after your additional maternity leave? Returning before the end of ordinary maternity leave (i.e. within the first 26 weeks of leave) means you are entitled to go back to the same job that you left.
If you return after additional maternity leave (i.e. the 26 week period after ordinary maternity leave) you are still entitled to go back to the same job unless there is a good reason to suggest a suitable and appropriate alternative role. Keeping in touch with your employer will hopefully allow you to have prior discussions about the role that you are returning to.
Please note: You must give your employer eight weeks' notice if you want to return earlier or later than your maximum entitlement.
2. Holiday Entitlement
Luckily, your holiday entitlement continues to accrue while you’re on maternity leave in the same way as if you’d been at work. So, you should think about whether you want to add this accrued leave on to the end of your maternity leave which would delay your return date or take the leave later on in the year, if there is time to do so. Contact your employer once you know what you want to do. Use it quickly or you may lose it, particularly if you are hoping to carry it over into a new holiday year, in which case it is probably safest to add it on to the end of your maternity leave.
Please note: You will be paid basic pay during any annual leave period and strictly speaking you are entitled to commission as well, although your employer may try and resist that. For more details see Holiday Pay Claims.
3. Breast Feeding at Work
You may be ready to return to work but your little angel may not be so ready, especially if you're still breast feeding. Think about when you plan to wean your baby.
If you decide to continue breastfeeding on your return to work, the law provides you with special Health and Safety protection and your employer must carry out a workplace risk assessment. If any risks are identified, your employer must take reasonable steps to remove them or prevent your exposure to them. e.g. changing your hours/working conditions. Your employer must give you information on the risks and what action has been taken.
There is no legal right to time off work for breastfeeding and your employer isn't required to provide breast feeding facilities but thankfully HSE guidance recommends that your employer should provide some facilities e.g. a private, clean environment, other than the toilets, for expressing milk and a fridge for storing it. The other option is to wean baby off breast milk completely before you go back to work, which is easier said than done. If your baby is already bottle or cup fed, that's one less thing to worry about.
Would you prefer a nanny, a live in au pair, a childminder or a nursery setting? Are grandparents able and willing to contribute to childcare? Consider the costs of your choice very carefully as the fees for some child care providers are far greater than others. Whilst doing this, look at your household budget to ensure you can afford the fees, particularly if you and/or your partner are planning to return to work on a reduced hours basis.
Whichever you decide, be sure to put the necessary arrangements in place sooner rather than later. Many nurseries and childminders have long waiting lists and some babies are put on the list from birth! You don't want to miss out so make your enquiries early and reserve a place.
5. Flexible Working
If you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks including maternity leave, you have the right to request flexible working. This doesn't mean that your employer is obliged to give it to you so make sure that you set out your case in support of your application very clearly to increase your chances of it being accepted, pre-empting the sorts of objections your employer might make with your proposed answers to those points.
Also, make your request in good time before your return to work. Beware that employers can reasonably decline your application where there is a legitimate business reason for doing so. If your flexible working application is rejected, you will be not be able to make a further application for 12 months; so ensure you give yourself the best chance by making a fully detailed request. For more details read our expert guide to Flexible Working.
6. Visit Your Workplace
(Provided that your place of work is a safe environment for baby) It's a good idea to bring baby into your office at some point before you return to work, not only to show him/her off.... awwww look at those cute little cheeks.... but also to re-familiarise yourself with the workplace and your colleagues.
It’s also worth having a meeting with your manager to talk about your plans for returning and get an update on any changes that have happened whilst you've been off. You should also discuss any refresher courses you can take. This will surely make the return less difficult.
You are entitled to 10 'Keeping In Touch' days (KIT days) fully paid, so if you can go into work for update meetings, or to carry out any short projects; at least you will be paid for those days.
Buy some new work outfits, why not?.... You deserve it! Do whatever you need to increase your self-confidence. Do some practice runs with your child care provider so that you and baby are familiar with the new routine. Also, have a back-up plan in the event that there are any disruptions e.g. baby or child care provider is sick.
You should be aware that the law only allows employees to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work in order to take action to deal with particular situations affecting your child. So if your nursery won’t take your child if he/she has a temperature, you are probably limited to taking some unpaid time off to make arrangements to find alternative child care. Check your employer’s policy on time off when dealing with unplanned situations involving your child and ensure that you are familiar with it.
8. New Shared Parental Leave Law
The flexibility Shared Parental Leave offers is beneficial at what is undoubtedly a tiring time for parents.
For eligibility you must have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and your partner must have worked at least 26 of the 66 weeks before the due date (whether as an employee or freelancer).
Parents will be entitled to share 50 weeks of leave per child following their birth (or adoption), in addition to the compulsory two weeks of maternity leave and two weeks of paternity leave. Any entitlement to maternity leave must be “curtailed” or reduced by the number of weeks of Shared Parental Leave to be taken.
For more information read my Top Tips For New Parents Taking Shared Parental Leave.
Lastly, it will take a few months to get back into the swing of things so go easy on yourself, try to relax and remember the reasons why you chose to return to work... and then enjoy an uninterrupted lunch break!
Marsha Thompson is an Employment Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
For more information call freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help.
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