Juggling work and a baby can be a struggle for even the most organised mum. Knowing your rights will help make your return to work as hassle-free as possible.
While you’re on maternity leave, your employer should have written to you confirming the date your maternity leave ends. You don’t have to give notice of your return to work – you could just turn up on the day you’re due back. However, if you decide to return early before your leave finishes, you must let your employer know at least eight weeks in advance.
After Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), you are entitled to your old job on the same terms and conditions.
After Additional Maternity Leave (AML), you have the right to return to your old job unless it is ‘not reasonably practicable’.
If that happens, your employer must offer you a suitable alternative post on a similar salary and conditions. You may have a claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination if your employer doesn’t.
Being a mum changes your priorities and you may want to alter your working hours to fit around childcare or family time. Maybe you’d prefer to do a job-share or work some days from home.
By law, if you have a child under 6 or a child under 18 with a disability, you have the right to apply to work more flexibly if you’ve been with that employer for at least 26 weeks.
You must make your request in writing explaining how you’d like to change your set-up and how you’d make it work so it doesn’t harm the business.
Your employer is legally obliged to consider your request and has to agree it or arrange a meeting with you to discuss it within 28 days. Then, within 14 days, your employer must write to you setting out a new work pattern and starting date.
If your request has been refused, you must be given clear business reasons why. You can appeal against the decision within 14 days. The Working Families helpline 0800 013 1313 can advise on approaching your boss about flexible working.
If you’ve been with your employer for a year, you’re entitled to 13 weeks parental leave for each child. Downside? It’s unpaid. If you’ve adopted a child, you’ve got the same rights.
You can take up to four weeks parental leave in any one year per child. But you can’t take odd days here or there – it has to be in blocks of full weeks.
It can be taken any time up to the child’s 5th birthday (or five years after adoption). If your child has a disability, you can take up to 18 weeks off before the child’s 18th birthday.
Your partner is also entitled to 13 weeks if he’s been with his employer for a year.
To take parental leave you must give 21 days notice. Some firms have special schemes for parental leave – take a look at your contract.
While on parental leave you are entitled to all your normal benefits, except for your salary. Your emplopyer is not allowed to treat you badly or sack you for taking or asking to take the leave.
You can arrange to be paid up to £55 of your salary a week in childcare vouchers to use towards the cost of looking after your child. Overall, this will save you up to £1,196 a year as you don’t have to pay National Insurance or Income Tax on them.
The vouchers can be used to pay for registered and approved childcare such as day nurseries, childminders, before- and after-school clubs, au pairs and holiday clubs for school-age children. Ask your human resources department at work if they take part in the scheme.
Check if your employer has a workplace crèche or is planning to open one in the near future. However, they’re still a real rarity according to the charity Daycare Trust.
‘Around 1% of employers provide actual crèches, although 10% now provide some help with childcare, which can be anything from advice to vouchers,’ says Peter Morgan, campaign and public affairs officer.
For further information and advice about your rights as a working parent, visit www.acas.org.uk or www.dti.gov.uk
Make going back to work a success
Most working mums know all too well that ‘having it all’ is a myth. But a new poll shows just how difficult it is to juggle work and being a mum.
The survey, by maternity coaching company Talking Talent, found that 47% of women felt being a working mum had a negative impact on their relationship with their partner, while 19% said it had strained their relationship with their children.
What’s more, 26% said it had a negative impact on their relationship with their boss, and 22% said it had a negative impact on their relationship with colleagues!
Maternity coach Jo Lyon has lots of advice to help make the transition to working mum that little bit smoother:
- Give your boss plenty of notice about your pregnancy and keep in touch with the office while you are on maternity leave.
- Arrange childcare early – before the baby’s born if necessary – and have emergency back-up ready just in case.
- Make sure you and your partner sort out how the domestic and childcare workload will be shared before you go back to work.
- Get your baby used to being with your childminder before you go back to work.
The poll also showed that 40% of professional mums had a confidence crisis when they went back to work. If you need an ego boost, remember being a working mum makes you:
1. Good at prioritising
3. Tactful, diplomatic and sensitive to the needs of others
4. A creative and original problem-solver
You should be proud of these skills and might even want to put them on your CV.