Aesthetic franchiser and director Rudi Fieldgrass shares advice on implementing a maternity policy in clinic and how to manage the process.
From my observations, the aesthetics specialty is predominantly female; currently throughout my clinics we employ 75 members of staff, of which 96% are female. In the last ten years, at least 20 of my staff have been on maternity leave and whilst it is undeniably a very exciting time for the staff member, there are implications to the company that any business owner will need to consider. The crux of the matter being, in about four to five months’ time, this valued member of your team will be leaving you and you are going to need someone to fill their position; for how long will be hard to gauge.
From experience, I would say it is unlikely they will be back within six months and there is also the possibility they choose to not return to work. It should be noted that the new mother cannot return to work for a minimum of two weeks after giving birth (industry dependant as factory workers have a longer mandatory requirement), this is known as ‘compulsory maternity leave’.1
The first time a member of staff tells you that they are pregnant, there will be a number of things you will need to consider and potentially put in place if you haven’t already created your maternity protocol. Don’t panic if you haven’t created one prior to being informed of the pregnancy, you can advise the employee that you will be providing them with information about what to expect, what their rights are and what you, as the employer, are obliged to do. Employees are eligible to maternity leave and pay but some companies may offer a more generous packet which could be dependent on your business’s financial status. Personally, I would advise hiring a specialist consultancy in human resources (HR) and employment law. It is also worth me just pointing out that I am not a HR specialist and this article is purely designed to give you an idea of factors to consider, all of which is correct at the time of publishing.
A third party can prove to be a very valuable aid that will advise you appropriately on all HR matters, not just implementing maternity policies. As legislations change and new laws are brought in, it helps to have a specialist company that are up to date with what your legal obligations are, so as to advise you appropriately instead of you trying to keep up with the changes, while also focusing on the day-to-day running of your business. If however, this is not an option, there are many useful websites that you can call upon to ensure that you are abiding by correct laws and policies. These include government-run websites such as GOV.UK and NI direct for citizens of Northern Ireland.2,3
Employees are also entitled to adoption or surrogacy leave (as well as maternity, paternity and shared parental leave, which I primarily focus on in this article) so it is worth familiarising yourself with this policy or asking your HR consultancy for advice should this arise in your clinic.4
Your employee can choose when they want to start their maternity leave, which will most likely be as close to the birth as possible, as this will usually be in their best interest in order to have longer off with the baby. They can’t begin their maternity leave until they are within three months of their due date.5 If your employee wants to take advantage of their right to maternity leave they will need to notify you of their pregnancy or intention to take maternity leave at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due.6
Most women choose not to announce that they are pregnant until after their first trimester, however, depending on their role within your company they might choose to inform you sooner because of a concern about working with pieces of equipment whilst pregnant, for example. They may ask that you keep their situation private for a certain amount of time. As a supportive employer, you should respect their privacy and do everything you can to work with them until they feel comfortable for you to make the announcement, or recommend that they personally tell their work colleagues when they are ready.
As much as it is important to protect your business, it is also vital that you support your employee; both should work in tandem. One of the first things you should do as the employer is a general risk assessment of the working environment for your records to identify the potential risks to both the employee and their baby, advised under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations act.7 Depending on their role within the company, you may highlight things like certain cleaning products, perhaps because of particular chemicals in them, however if you are unsure you should check your COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) register.8 Not only that but there may be advisories on some of the machines which are used for treatments, such as radiofrequency machines or a particular laser and, although there is no hard and fast rule on this, it is always best to check with sales representatives whether it is suitable for pregnant women to operate that particular machine. It is also worth your employee mentioning this to their GP. The risk assessment should document your health and safety walkthrough and you should provide your member of staff with a dated and signed copy of the findings, measures to be put in place, as well as details of what has been discussed.7 Be sure to file a copy in your employee’s staff file. A properly documented risk assessment will be a helpful tool, especially if you find yourself in a situation where your pregnant employee has an accident.
As much as it is important to protect your business, it is also vital that you support your employee; both should work in tandem
There will come a point where you will need to provide your employee with regular breaks. It is advised for every six hours of working, pregnant employees are entitled to at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted rest breaks.9 It may also help to offer seating options for pregnant front-of-house staff and, for practitioners, if your clinic has a lot of stairs, you suggest that the employee simply meets the patient in the treatment room instead of the normal meet and greet. I have found that patients are very understanding and usually don’t mind too much in situations such as these.
Generally, the first thing your member of staff will want to know is how much salary they are entitled to and for how long they will be paid whilst on maternity leave. To qualify for maternity leave, the employee must have worked for you for a minimum of 26 weeks continuously and earn an average of £116 a week.10 The minimum you must pay your employee is the government’s statutory maternity pay (SMP), which is paid for up to 39 weeks.11 In the first six weeks, the employee will be entitled to 90% of their average gross salary, while for the remaining 33 weeks you will be paying them £145.18 per week, or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.12 In some cases, it is possible to claim back some of the SMP via the PAYE system, usually around 92% for SMP or SPP; I would advise you to consult your accountant for more information. In order to qualify for SMP, your employee will need to provide you with a MAT B1 which will detail when the expected week of birth is. The MAT B1 is a certificate that is given out by either a midwife or a medical practitioner.6,11 It is also worth noting that companies are able to set their own maternity pay policies in addition to the statutory pay. As long as you are meeting the statutory requirements you will unlikely find yourself in hot water but adding things like childcare vouchers or extended pay packets is a way to potentially drive employee retention. For example, the NHS offers eight weeks full pay and 18 weeks half pay (which includes any SMP) and private companies may offer even more.13
I want to touch upon paternity and shared policies too, something which has come to the fore within the last 15 years. Fathers are entitled to either one to two weeks leave to care for the mother and child depending on their employment status. They must have worked with the employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the ‘qualifying week’, which is the 15th week before the baby is due. They are also entitled to a weekly statutory paternity pay (SPP) which, like the maternity pay, is 90% of your average weekly earnings.21 In 2015, shared parental leave (SPL) also came into effect. Both mothers and fathers are able to take SPL if they are eligible (by meeting the same requirements as above and share responsibility for the child at birth) and choose to end their maternity leave early by returning to work; the remaining leave will be available as SPL.20 Employees can take this leave in three separate ‘blocks’ and each block must be for a duration of one week or more. An example given by GOV.UK is that an employee could work every other week during a 12-week block, using a total of six weeks of their SPL or use it all at once.
Similarly to SPP and SMP, employees can be eligible to statutory shared parental pay (SSPP), which is paid at the rate of £145.18 a week or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.22 This is currently only available in England, Scotland and Wales.
When finding a replacement employee to cover maternity leave, whether this be temporary or an additional position that you decide to make permanent, it is important to remember that it is a legal requirement to keep the employee’s position available for them when they return from maternity leave.14 It also makes sense when advertising for the position that you mention it is maternity cover, as a maternity contract will differ from a full-time employee’s contract. There are cost factors to consider when arranging maternity leave for an employee too. These can include; paid time off during normal working hours in order to attend antenatal classes (where you will pay the employee their normal hourly rate),15 doctor check-ups, the overlap of pay for the employee and their replacement, recruitment fees should you wish to hire a recruitment agency and training costs for new employees.
It is also important to remember that whilst the employee is on maternity leave, they still accrue holiday; the justification being that the staff member cannot take holiday while on maternity leave. With this in mind, I have found that it is common for the employee to tag this accrued holiday onto the end of their maternity leave, which could account for at least 28 extra days. It is also common for the employee to use up their remaining annual leave and take it just before they are to begin their maternity leave. This way they can begin their leave earlier and their SMP won’t kick in until after the holiday.15
As mentioned previously, you have a legal requirement to hold the employee’s current position open so that they can return to the same role. Some employees choose to come back to work before their full maternity entitlement is complete. In this case the employee will be required to give you ample notice of their intention to return, which is no less than eight weeks’ notice.16
When your employee returns to work, there is a possibility they will need to familiarise themselves with the job and clinic again. It would be sensible to provide a return-to-work refresher as systems and policies might have changed
If they are taking the full 52 weeks, then there is no requirement to notify and they should return to work on the predetermined day. It is possible that your employee might not want to come back to their full-time position and requests a part-time position. You have no obligation to accommodate this,17 but I believe it is good business practice to formally consider the request and, if there is no position available, thoroughly explain the reason for your decision.
There are a few other things that you may want to consider for your maternity policy, such as keeping your employee informed of any new opportunities at work, such as new position openings. Bear in mind, however, your employee might not want to be contacted during their maternity leave, which is their right,18 in which case they can indicate this to you prior to taking leave. Also, while the employee is on maternity leave, they have the opportunity to come back into work on ten occasions without affecting their SMP. These days are referred to as keeping-in-touch days (KIT) and they are designed to keep the employee in-tune with their skillset.19,20
When your employee does return to work, there is a possibility they will need to familiarise themselves with the job and clinic again. It would be sensible to provide a return-to-work refresher as systems and policies might have changed. Your clinic might have a new piece of equipment or technology and, if the employee chooses not to utilise the KIT days, they might need to be trained in these. Remember it is in the company’s interest to make sure your employee is the best they can possibly be, so providing them with the appropriate training and support makes sense.
To recap, once your employee has informed you of their pregnancy you should provide them with a document that details their rights, which will include information on maternity leave/pay, their notice requirements, keeping-in-touch days, vacancies or opportunities, annual leave and returning to work. You should also determine whether or not your employee would like to be contacted while they are on their leave, prior to them having the time off and have a record of this to refer back to should you need to. This is an exciting time for employees and as an employer, I believe it is so important to be supportive throughout the whole process; so let them know that you are there to assist them whilst still ensuring your business is not being affected. You employed this person for a reason and I think it is important to communicate with them that this break in their career will not have an impact on their future career with you, something which may be a significant concern for new parents.