Time goes quickly in the workplace. Before you know it, the employee you wished well as she headed off on maternity leave will be due to return to work. It is therefore important to think ahead and prepare early to help both employee and employer enjoy the process. Here are our five top tips for a smooth and happy transition.

  1. Be clear on when maternity leave ends

Employees are entitled to a total of 52 weeks’ maternity leave, divided into ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ (the first 26 weeks) and ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ (the last 26 weeks).

It is up to the employee to decide how much of this leave to take (aside from the minimum two weeks’ compulsory leave after the birth) and when to return to work. In other words, there is no automatic maternity return date and it is up to the employee to confirm her plans to you. However, to avoid too much confusion and encourage communication, the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999 provide a framework of notice provisions.

  1. Keep in touch

Don’t forget about the employee when she is on maternity leave. If you can, try to agree with her before she goes on leave when and how you can contact her and how much. However, do at least keep all employees on maternity leave updated on promotion opportunities or vacancies as not to do so could amount to pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

The closer it gets to the end of maternity leave, the more you may wish to use ‘keeping-in-touch’ (KIT) days to bring the employee up to speed and allow her to acclimatise to the workplace.  KIT days allow employees to carry out up to 10 days of paid work without bringing the maternity leave to an end. However, they can only take place if both employer and employee agree, so don’t force a reluctant employee to attend these. The type of work is up to the employer and employee to agree — attending a team meeting for example — but be careful as a day on which any work is done will count as a whole KIT day.

  1. Take care with changes to roles

Regardless of the frequency of contact with the employee, you will need to bear her needs in mind at all times. In particular, do be careful before you make any changes which may affect her role.

Employees are entitled under the MPL Regulations to return to:

The same job on no less favourable terms and conditions than she would be on if she had never been away, if she returns

  • During or at the end of OML.
  • After a period of shared parental leave which, when combined with OML, amounts to 26 weeks or less.

The same job or, if this is not reasonably practicable, a suitable alternative job, if she returns:

  • During or at the end of AML.
  • After a period of shared parental leave which when combined with maternity leave amounts to more than 26 weeks.
  • After a period of at least four weeks’ parental leave on top of her OML.
  1. Bring an open mind to flexible working requests

It is particularly common for maternity returners to make a flexible working request — particularly to work part-time or from home. Although this is a right to request (rather than an automatic right to work flexibly) employers do need to take care handling these. You should comply with the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests.

  1. Provide a supportive working environment

Some employees can’t wait to get back to work after maternity leave and are quick to adapt. However, for many it is a pretty daunting experience and it can take some time to get back into the swing of things and adjust to the work and motherhood juggling act.

There are some steps that employers can take to help with this:

  • Have a return-to-work meeting with the employee to welcome them back
  • Offer support with breast-feeding
  • Check that other health and safety needs are met