Having had an interesting couple of discussions with members recently regarding Maternity Leave (Parental Leave) I thought it timely to put a few pointers together as there appears to be some thinking around this which is incorrect.
Most employers have a grip on an employee’s entitlement to take Parental leave after 12 months continuous service – most often this concerns female staff taking ‘maternity leave’. The paid parental leave scheme is paid for by the Government and an employer must hold the employee’s position for 12 months. That is the position they held prior to proceeding on their leave.
The employee must notify the employer in writing of their intention to take leave and they should also provide you with the proposed start date and the proposed return to work date. They may seek an extension to their leave period and conversely they may ask if they can come back early – in either case these should be written submissions for the employer to consider and applications can be refused on reasonable operational grounds.
An employee on Parental Leave may also seek to return to work on a ‘flexible’ basis and they have the right to ask this. Again any request should be in writing and clearly state their proposal and the reasons for it. The employer may refuse a request on reasonable operational grounds but it is a good idea to be prepared in the eventuality that such an application might be received at some point. There is nothing wrong with having verbal discussions just make sure that everything proposed and agreed or otherwise is in writing.
Whilst the above has to do with some basic process around leave the next misconception is that any employee on maternity leave ‘cannot’ be contacted by the employer. Many employers are under the impression that parental leave is somewhat like sick leave and the employee is basically ‘out of bounds’ till they return. Nothing could be further from the truth. We would suggest that it is in an employer’s best interests to keep contact with the employee, invite them back for staff meetings and social events and keep them in the loop with developments at work, especially if, for example, there is a possibility that the employee’s position may become ‘redundant’ during the time of their leave.
By maintaining regular contact you may get advice of the employee’s changing circumstances and their return to work and it may afford additional time to consider any flexibility that may exist in accommodating a change to the employee’s position.
Naturally there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to these matters so make sure you utilize your membership entitlements and call us to discuss your particular situation so that you can be confident you are managing your employees appropriately in this area. Employers must be careful that they are not inadvertently caught up with claims of discrimination or a breach of an employee’s workplace rights under General Protections legislation.