Length of maternity leave
Opening dialogue on this matter is a good idea but you should be careful not to apply pressure to make any decisions before the employee is ready.
All pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) regardless of how long they have been employed. It is a right available from day one of employment (unlike Statutory Maternity Pay, see below).
The first 26 weeks of SML are known as Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and the second 26 weeks are known as Additional Maternity Leave (AML). An important difference between OML and AML is the extent of the employee’s right to return to work at the end of their maternity leave. At the end of OML they have the right to return to their previous job. At the end of AML their right to return is slightly different (see ‘RIGHTS’ below).
As an employer you should assume that the employee will take the full 52 weeks of SML until you know otherwise. If the employee wishes to return earlier, for example when SMP ends, they must give at least 8 weeks’ notice. Similarly if they wish to change the date of return the same notice period applies.
If the employee decides not to return to work at all, they must give notice in the normal way as per their contract.
The employee is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if she has been employed by the practice for at least 28 weeks at a time point of 15 weeks PRIOR to the due date (known as the “Qualifying Week”). The dates should be verified by “proof of pregnancy” (usually a MATB1 form or letter from the doctor or midwife).
Leave dates and maternity pay can be calculated using the ‘Maternity, Adoption and paternity calculator for employers’ at gov.uk/maternity-paternity-calculator.
Discuss the employee’s rights to SMP and whether she is eligible for any additional company maternity pay/package (gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/pay).
SMP is paid for up to 39 weeks. The employee gets 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks, then the current allowance (£140.98 in 2017; changes annually) or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
SMP is paid in the same way as wages (for example monthly or weekly).
Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.
An employer can usually reclaim 92% of employees’ SMP (103% if the business qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief) using payroll software to include it in an Employer Payment Summary (EPS) to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
SMP is calculated using the last 8 weeks pay before the end of the “Qualifying Week” (15th week before the baby is due), so make sure any changes in the employee’s pay are effected by this point (e.g. stopping childcare vouchers and other salary sacrifices if required).
SMP commences on the first day of SML. see ‘FINISHING WORK AND STARTING MATERNITY LEAVE’ .
Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death
Under the law, if the baby is born dead before the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, it is called a miscarriage, and the employee is entitled to sick leave and statutory sick pay but not maternity leave or SMP.
If the baby is born dead after the beginning of the 24th week of pregnancy it is called a stillbirth, and the employee is entitled to maternity leave and can claim Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
The same applies to paternity leave.
Benefits in kind
Company car, car allowance, accommodation, housing allowance, mobile phone, phone allowance, childcare vouchers, pension, CPD allowance, etc... should all be discussed in relation to the employee’s contract. As a rough rule, anything deemed as a benefit should be continued throughout maternity leave, whereas continuation of anything classed as remuneration or a cash benefit is at the employer’s discretion and may well be referred to in the contract of employment.
Annual leave and pay increases
Annual leave continues to accrue whilst on maternity leave.
Any pay increases will apply once the employee has returned to their salary.
Keeping in touch (KIT) days
KIT days are intended to allow those on maternity leave to keep up to date and to facilitate a smooth return to work. The employee can work up to 10 KIT days (paid for the whole day even if attending a meeting for an hour).
KIT days are optional - both the employee and employer need to agree to them, they must be arranged in advance and the days do not have to be consecutive. Use of KIT days does not affect the employee’s right to SMP or maternity leave.
Return to work
Consider a small induction to bring the employee up to speed with any changes at the practice (personnel, operating procedures, medicines, etc).
A phased return can work for some new mothers and some practices. Annual leave, which continued to accrue during the maternity leave, can be used to facilitate this (e.g. working fewer days per week for the first month) as can KIT days (e.g. working 10 KIT days in the last month of maternity leave).
Plan one or more review meetings to ensure the return to work is going well for both parties.
If returning to work after 26 weeks or less the employee is entitled to return to exactly the same job. If returning after more than 26 weeks you can offer a suitable alternative job on the same terms and conditions. You will need to provide a business justification for this and, given the risk of a claim, you should seek legal guidance if considering this.
All employees are entitled to make a written request for flexible working (hours, days, or place of work) provided they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks.
The employer must have a sound business reason for rejecting such a request.
The unpredictable nature of most equine veterinary work means that finding flexible childcare for employees’ children can be challenging. Employees and employers need to be mindful of the fact that this creates a new and significant source of stress for all parties. It may be that pre-set cut off times for first and last calls in various locations can help to relieve this pressure.
Flexible working changes may also affect the OOH rota and it is important that there is clarity over any agreement and that you consider what impact the flexible working arrangements will have on the workload of other staff within the business.
Ensure the following are addressed before the employee returns to work:
• VDS cover is resumed
• RCVS membership is returned to UK practising category
• CPD requirements are satisfied (105 hours in 3 years)
• OV qualifications are still valid (if applicable)
• Consider any refresher courses or CPD that may help prepare for the return to work following a break (see the BEVA website for webinars and return to work CPD)
• Any changes to practice policy and procedures are discussed, including changes to medicines, equipment and staff (a good use of KIT days/mini-induction)