Returning to work after maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a challenging experience for mothers. Many mothers struggle with going back to work-full time and may be affected by other pregnancy related issues such as post-natal depression. Kalra Legal Group want mothers to be aware of the support mechanisms available to ease their transition back into the workplace. Here are their tips:

Providing notice of your return to work

A lot of mothers choose to use their full 52 week entitlement for Statutory Maternity Leave. If you fall into this situation, there is no requirement to provide any notice of your return to work. However, it would be useful to inform your employer of your return so any necessary arrangements can be made to aid your transition back into the workplace.

Some mothers choose to return to work before exhausting the 52 week Statutory Maternity Leave. For example, they may choose to return to work if they do not want to see out the unpaid 13 week period at the end of Statutory Maternity Leave. If you decide to return to work early you have to provide your employer with 8 weeks notice of your intention to return to work early, stating your intended date of return.

Your job position on your return to work

The level of protection surrounding your job position will depend on when you decide to return to work.

If you decide to return to work after more than 26 weeks maternity leave (after Additional Maternity Leave) you have the right to return to the same job on the same conditions as when you left for maternity leave. However, if your employer can show a good reason for not being able to provide your old job role, they can offer you an alternative role of employment on the same terms and conditions.

On the other hand, if you decide to return to work after 26 weeks maternity leave or less (within Ordinary Maternity Leave) you are guaranteed the right to return to the same job on the same conditions as when you left for maternity leave.

Flexible Working Request

If you feel as though it would be difficult returning to work full-time straight away, a possible option is making a flexible working request. The right to flexible working is derived from the Children and Families Act 2014. It enables employees who have been employed for 26 weeks or more to make one request for flexible working (for any reason) in any 12 month period.

Your flexible working request can adapt your working pattern in an assortment of ways. You can request a change to your terms of employment altering the hours you work, the times you work or even the location you work at. This can be utilised in a way to help balance your work and family life. For example, you could request to work from home to spare you a tiring commute into work.

There are certain requirements that must be complied with when making the request for it to be a valid request. Once an employer receives a flexible working request under the statutory scheme they must deal with it in a ‘reasonable manner’, and they may only refuse a request under one of the prescribed grounds.

Annual leave

Another option for mothers who are finding returning to work after maternity leave challenging is using their annual leave entitlement. This will have been accrued during maternity leave and could be used to ease the transition back into the working environment.

After the 52 week Statutory Maternity Leave period, some employers may exercise discretion and allow mothers to take a further period of time off work as unpaid leave. If this is an option you are considering you should ensure to confirm this position in writing with the right to return to the same job at the same terms and conditions.

Unpaid leave

A similar situation to this would be asking your employer for a career break.

Parents also have the opportunity to request parental leave. This is usually unpaid and allows parents to take up to 18 weeks of parental leave per child up until that child’s 18th birthday. Usually employees are not able to take more than 4 weeks off in any one year. This must be requested with at least 21 days notice and this notice may have to be given in a prescribed manner depending on the employer’s request. By requesting parental leave in advance, it could be utilised by mothers to provide an extra four weeks off work once maternity leave has ended.

Postnatal depression

NHS statistics show that postnatal depression affects more than one in ten mothers within a year of giving birth. There are a variety of symptoms relating to postnatal depression, some of which include: persistent feelings of sadness and a low mood, lack of energy and trouble sleeping, feelings of guilt or hopelessness. It is important to seek medical advice if you believe you may be affected by postnatal depression.

Under the Equality Act, postnatal depression may be regarded as a ‘disability’ if it meets certain criteria. In other words, if in your situation the impairment is likely to last 12 months or more and has a substantial impact on your normal day-to-day activities. If this is the case you will be protected under the Equality Act from any discrimination in relation to your disability. Furthermore, your employer will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to aid your condition. For example, this may mean reducing your hours or working in a different role.

As stated above, mental health issues such as postnatal depression are serious and medical advice should be sought if you feel you are affected.

Breastfeeding at work

If you wish to breastfeed at work you should inform your employer of this before you return to work so they can make reasonable adjustments. They are required to carry out a risk assessment to determine any health and safety risks to yourself or your baby. If risks are identified they should be removed or reasonable adjustments should be made. For example, your employer may decide to create a private area for you to breastfeed.

Have you returned to work recently? How did it go? Perhaps you are planning to soon? Hopefully this will be useful.

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