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Female Employee Entitlements & Supporting Women at Work

Date 8 Mar, 2021 |
By: Claire Malley

female employee entitlementsWith Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s a good opportunity for employers to refresh their knowledge about female employee entitlements and understand how they can support their female personnel; from pregnancy and those on maternity leave, to every day working mums. Female employees are still subject to discrimination, whether direct or indirect, on a daily basis so it’s important not to be an accidental offender & get your practices & ethos up to date. Below are some must know facts;

Female Employee Entitlements: Pregnancy

Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off to attend all ante-natal classes during their pregnancy.
It’s vitally important that employers conduct risk assessments for pregnant employees & update them whenever it is suspected that it is no longer valid or there have been significant changes to any part of it. It should be regularly reviewed taking into account possible risks during all stages of pregnancy.
Sickness Absence
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against employees based on their sex. One common way employers fall into the trap of discriminating is by holding pregnancy related sickness absence against their staff. You should always discount such absence from any sickness absence triggers you have in place. You should also be fair when reprimanding for any lateness where pregnancy ailments (morning sickness for example) is the culprit. Some employers have queried this; “so because my employee is pregnant she can be off sick as much as she likes?” – the answer is “not necessarily”. Make sure you hold a proper return to work interview (as you would with any staff member who has been off sick) & if the absence doesn’t relate to the pregnancy then you don’t have to discount it. Separate out the ones that do and don’t relate to being pregnant. If the pregnancy related sickness is very high; refer back to your risk assessments & try to put temporary measures in place to make it easier for them to stay in work.
Another common myth is employer’s thinking they can’t take action against underperforming employees if they are pregnant. Of course you can! Just make sure it is well documented and their performance issues aren’t related to their pregnancy. For example, someone suffering with a pregnancy ailment is likely to be a little less productive for a period of time or need additional breaks here and there however consistently not hitting deadlines without reaching out for support or purposely avoiding doing any work without good justification can still be managed. Treat them the same as other employees but make reasonable allowances where deemed necessary if performance problems relate to the pregnancy. Don’t be afraid of failing a pregnant employees probationary period, for example; just make sure you document it well, it’s not related to the pregnancy and most importantly that you’ve fool proofed it with someone from the Wirehouse advice team first.

Female Employee Entitlements: Maternity Leave

An employee should tell you they’re pregnant no later than 15 weeks prior to the week their baby is due. They should also tell you when they wish to start their maternity leave & give you their “MATB1 form” which is something they’ll have from their midwife when they are around 20 weeks’ pregnant. You should then reply within 28 days & let them know when their maternity leave runs to. Unless they have specified a lesser time you should assume they are taking the full 52 weeks. Once you’ve confirmed all this to them in writing, an employee has to give you 8 weeks’ notice if they intend to return to work early, in which case it gives you plenty of time to re-organise any cover you may have put in place for them.
Returning to Work
If your employee returns to work after 26 weeks of “ordinary” maternity leave then they have the right to return to the same job. If they take off more than 26 weeks then it’s regarded as “additional” maternity leave & although they have the right to return to the job on the same terms as before, if it’s not possible from a business point of view then they should be offered one similar. However the “similar” job cannot be worse than before & they should still have the same pay, benefits, annual leave entitlement, seniority & location of work. Any redundancy issues are a complex matter & should be referred to us at Wirehouse for further advice.
Employees accrue annual leave during their maternity leave and this can be taken once they return. If there is not enough time to take it before the holiday year ends then they have the right to carry it forward to the next year.
Keeping in Touch
Make sure there’s a way for your employee to be kept in the loop with important updates whilst on maternity leave. You don’t want to bombard them with work related matters but at the same time you want to ensure they’re not missing out on anything to their detriment; for example send any new internal vacancies to their personal email address so that they have the same ability as others to apply for roles. Don’t decline them any internal roles just because of their absence; if they’re successful then cover should be provided until they return.
“Keeping in touch (KIT)” days are optional for employers and employees but these are a great way for the employee to keep up to date; they can carry out their normal work, attend training or conferences or “any activity undertaken for the purposes of keeping in touch with the workplace”. Good practice would be the pay your employee their normal rate of pay but as long as you’re paying national minimum wage or above then you can agree any amount that both parties are happy with.

Female Employee Entitlements: Other Considerations

Flexible Working
Make sure you’re properly considering any flexible working request made with regards to childcare particularly for someone returning from maternity leave, to avoid discrimination and enable mums to return to work. There’s no automatic right to the flexible working but if you are able to offer it, then it should be authorised. If you do wish to decline it, speak to us first so we can assist as to which lawful ground you can refuse on.
Dependency Leave
Emergency time off to organise care for a dependent is a right that you’ll see most frequently utilised by parents, probably more commonly so by mums. Be reasonable when dealing with such issues. Understandably it may impact the business if it becomes too frequent but you’ll be opening yourself up to claims if you deny it, take disciplinary action or treat it the same as sickness absence. There is a fine line between what is regarded as emergency dependency leave and what falls outside of it so if the frequency of someone’s time off is causing problems for the business, contact us for more information on how to handle this. It may even be a conversation is necessary to see if the child’s Dad or Grandparents can share the time off.

Support Dad’s too!

By supporting Dad’s in their request for flexible working relating to childcare, ability to share time off for dependents leave & upholding their rights in relation to paternity, shared parental and other leave, you’re also supporting mums!
If you have any questions at all around your pregnant employees, maternity leave or obligations in relation to anything family friendly then get in touch with our HR advisers today.

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