Written by Lauren Ellison, Head of Four Business Support
Finding out your pregnant can be a rollercoaster of emotions - I should know. I'm currently expecting my first in June and getting to grips with everything a new parent needs to know. Understanding maternity pay can be confusing and on top of that you need to prepare yourself and your colleagues for your maternity leave. We all know how it feels to prepare for a one week holiday so organising your team for potentially 52 weeks can be daunting. Getting organised as soon as possible is important so I wanted to share my experience and advice, along with some legal facts and policies to help you navigate your time before welcoming your new baby into the world.
This is my first baby and I understand it can be a bit of a minefield to filter through all the rules and regulations in relation to maternity leave so I wanted to start off with some of the facts. All employees have the right to 52 weeks maternity leave and most women will also be able to take 39 weeks statutory maternity pay (SMP). However, agency workers are not entitled to maternity leave (unless stated in your contract) but you may qualify for maternity pay. In any case it is always worthwhile checking your contract and speaking to your employer.
SMP is paid up to 39 weeks and you will get:
Did you know!! Your employment rights are protected whilst on statutory maternity leave, this includes your right to pay rise and annual leave.
Of course, it's completely up to you when you decide to tell your employer about your pregnancy. Some people prefer to let them know within the first few weeks, particularly if you're suffering with sickness or other symptoms, but others might want to wait a few months to allow them time to adapt and move safely out of the first trimester.
It's worth bearing in mind that to be eligible for SMP you need to tell your employer at least 15 weeks before your due date. Your employer may ask for your maternity leave start date and they must also write to you within 28 days to confirm your start and end dates.
Deciding when to take your maternity leave is completely up to the individual and may depend on the type of pregnancy you have. If you have special health needs, your job is physically demanding or you have a long, tiring commute you might want to consider taking it earlier. I am personally planning to work up until two weeks before my due date, purely because I want to stay busy and get everything handed over correctly, however my baby seems to have other ideas and continues growing rapidly.
Of course, pregnancy is rarely straight-forward so if you need to change your maternity leave start date you must give your employer at least 28 days before the new or the old start date, whichever is earliest.
When it comes to deciding how long to take this will likely depend on a number of factors including personal preference and your financial stability. Everyone is different and what suits one mum could be completely different for someone else. It is worth understanding your SMP and maternity allowance to compare against your financial needs throughout your maternity leave. This might help you decide how long to take.
If like me your work revolves around clients, it is vital that you keep them up to speed to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. Before you tell your clients the exciting news, I would recommend putting together an action plan with your team. Once you have a clear understanding of who's covering your role and their responsibilities then you can share this with your clients. Do this early to allow yourself time to remedy any issues that may arise. I told my clients halfway through my pregnancy and have maintained communication throughout.
Another suggestion is to introduce clients to any new points of contact face to face. This will allow your client the opportunity to ask any questions with both you and your cover around and will help them to feel comfortable and stay engaged with the business in your absence.
Depending on your role and level of seniority, the handover can be very daunting. I would suggest pulling together the essential information about your role and ongoing tasks early on and keep adding to them throughout your pregnancy. This will give you a better idea of the experience and skills required by your maternity cover and can be shared with your recruitment consultant to find the best fit.
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It is also worth thinking ahead and understanding what big projects are planned whilst you're away. Do you need specialist support to work on this or can you utilise current members of your team? If so, scheduling regular meetings with any members of your team to share your responsibilities and workload will be beneficial to keep them up to speed.
If you're in a management role it could be worth creating a manual or handbook with key information about clients, processes and best practices. Not only will this help your team in your absence but will also be a useful tool when training new starters. If you have documents that you rely on regularly then move these to a centralised hub and ensure any essential resource is available to the wider team.
KIT or 'keeping in touch' days allow you to return to work for a full day or just a few hours and provide you the opportunity to stay up to speed with business activity and remain in contact with the rest of your team. I would recommend communicating with your employer and scheduling a day that gives you exposure to key business activity. For example, I will be planning my kit days around our Business Plan meetings at the beginning of each month. This will allow me to stay up to date with business performance and catch up with my team.
You're allowed 10 KIT days in total and when/if you use these is completely up to you. It's worth informing your employer and your team about your plans for before you leave and whether or not you wish to be contacted whilst on maternity leave.
Of course, everyone's situation is different but my main tip would be to start early. If you're at the start of your pregnancy it might seems like ages away but it's worth starting to make notes and creating an action plan that you can add to as you go.
If you need help hiring for your maternity cover we have a team of talented recruiters across HR, finance, business support, supply chain and executive that will work with you to understand your requirements and find the best fit for your cover.