Written by: Cally Worden
If you are returning to work before your maternity leave is up then this may not be as simple as it sounds. You’d like to think your employer will welcome you back with open arms, but it is important to remember that they will have been obliged to make commitments and arrangements to cover your absence, and may be unable or unwilling to change these.
When you take maternity leave, your current job is protected by law, and your employer is obliged to keep your role open for you under the same terms and conditions. In subscribing to this deal, however, you take on your own responsibility to give your employer notice if you want to request flexible working arrangements upon your return, or if you wish to come back earlier than you initially planned.
- If you want to return earlier or later than your agreed date – you must give your employer 8 weeks’ notice
- Regarding flexible working arrangements – although not a hard and fast figure, assuming your employer even agrees to your request it can reasonably take around 14 weeks for a new regime to be implemented. Minus your 8 weeks’ notice, you could still be looking at your initial 6 weeks back at work under you former working hours.
Whether you return early from maternity leave or when you planned to, your rights would appear to remain the same:
- Returning to the same job – employers must accommodate this where they can, but if it is simply impractical for valid business reasons you must be offered a similar role on the same or better terms and conditions. If your role has been made redundant in your absence, you should be offered an alternative vacancy that reflects your former role, or be offered a redundancy payment in accordance with your terms and conditions of employment.
- Terms and Pay – you are entitled to receive any pay rises or improvements in your terms and conditions of employment that were implemented in your absence.
- Holiday Entitlement – this accrues during maternity leave in the same way as it would if you were at work. If you have not chosen to tack it onto the end of your maternity leave you retain the right to take these days.
- Parental Leave – any parent with a child who has completed at least one year of service with an employer is entitled to this. It is an entitlement to take up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave from the birth of your child up to their 5th birthday. For a disabled child this is extended to up to 18 weeks up to their 18th birthday). For non-disabled children this time must be taken in week-long blocks.
- Emergency Leave – regardless of how long you have been with your employer you are entitled to take some unpaid leave to respond to a family emergency, such as the unexpected illness of your child.
- Flexible working – if you have worked for 26 weeks for the same employer, including maternity leave, you are entitled to request flexible working conditions. Your employer does not have to grant these.
- Keeping in Touch days – you are entitled to work up to 10 days for your employer during your maternity leave without affecting your other rights, provided both you and your employer are in agreement on this.
Where to Get Help
Most employers are very aware of the law in respect of maternity leave, but there is always to the odd one who may seek to deprive you of your rights. If you think you are being treated unfairly, then you can:
- Contact your Trade Union – if you have one
- Get in touch with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, ACAS for advice if you are based in England, Scotland and Wales
- Contact the Labour Relations Agency for advice if you are based in Northern Ireland