Reintegrating staff after maternity leave needn’t be complicated, explains Sara McCorquodale

Welcoming back an employee from maternity leave can be a complicated experience for many HR managers. Rejoining the team after up to a year away and a life changing experience means the employee’s priorities are likely to have shifted and the business could have gone through significant changes in their absence.

However, ensuring returning staff hit the ground running needn’t be a difficult process if simple procedures are followed during their leave.

HR expert Nadine Jones says: “Use of ‘Keeping in Touch’ days - up to 10 paid days worked at times agreed between the employee and employer - is a really positive way to help keep an employee up to date on developments throughout their sector, business and team.”

While an employee may be keen to come back to work, their previous schedule may no longer be suitable. Many new mothers request more flexible hours to successfully juggle parenthood and a career.

Jones says: “A returning employee has the right to request flexible hours and the HR manager can help the employee understand their eligibility for flexible working and structure the different options and possibilities. If a formal meeting is required before the request is accepted, the HR manager can facilitate this - arranging the meeting, letting the employee know their right to be accompanied and then supporting the line manager to review and discuss possible alternatives if the request cannot be accommodated.”

If employers reject a request for more flexible hours, they must have substantial reasons for doing so. They may have to explain their motivation at an employment tribunal.

Julie Quinn, partner at law firm Nabarro, says: “A lot of reasons for rejecting this may be refused by a tribunal. Employers need to prove they cannot meet the request. To do this they could argue they cannot find someone to do the job as well as the current employee or prove the other employees could not take the extra workload.”

However, coming to an agreement over hours that suit both employees and employers should be possible if the company is organised. Jones says: “Having clear, well written policies and procedures that are communicated effectively to line managers and employees is a great starting point. 

To assist with childcare and support a returning employee, Jones advises: “Offer childcare vouchers. The loss of talented high-performing employees at any level can have a serious impact on a business.”

Parents’ rights

Parents with children aged 16 and under, or 18 and under if disabled, are entitled to request flexible hours. Employers must consider this request and respond in writing.

Employees are entitled to four weeks’ parental leave after taking their maternity leave. This does not affect their right to return.

An employee has the right to postpone returning from maternity leave by up to four weeks if a registered practitioner certifies she is not capable to work.

The employer may also postpone the date by up to four weeks, provided the employer notifies her of the reason.