Q&A: Managing parental leave in a small business
HR consultant Cheryl Willey of PeakHR on how to ensure the best outcomes
If managed well, you can minimise the impact of parental leave on your business. Nottingham-based HR consultant Cheryl Willey of PeakHR explains how to get it right
Do some small firms still worry about the prospect of parental leave?
Cheryl Willey (CW): “Some do, yes. Having a key employee go on maternity leave, for example, for up to a year can have a significant impact on some small businesses – less so on others. An owner might also worry about whether the staff member will return after their maternity leave. Good management and sound planning as early as possible are key to minimising the impact on your business.”
What about the cost implications?
CW: “These can be minimal. Employers can claim at least 92% of Statutory Maternity Pay back from the Government. Seeking advice from payroll specialists or an accountant can be helpful. In some circumstances, you may be able to claim 103% of SMP.”
Should businesses know what parental rights their employees have?
CW: “It’s crucial. It’s a complex area of law that’s changed much in recent years. If you get it wrong, you could face an employment tribunal claim, which can be costly to defend – while penalties can be significant. At very least, you risk alienating a previously hardworking, fully engaged staff member. Better to know your responsibilities and what rights your employees have. That includes pregnant women, mothers, fathers, partners in same-sex relationships and those who adopt, of course. And since December 2014, parental leave and pay can be shared between parents, although take-up has been limited.”
What if my knowledge is lacking?
CW: “There are some good free online resources, including the Government’s own website GOV.UK and the Acas website, but there are others. Crucially, you must ensure that your knowledge remains up to date, because rules change. Obviously, there’s no substitute for tailored advice from an experienced HR consultant. It can ensure that you do everything you need to do when you need to do it.”
How can small businesses limit the impact of parental leave?
CW: “Try to ensure that no one in your business is the only person who knows how to do something. Knowledge should be shared. The same is true of customer relationships. Also, make sure that communication is good before the staff member goes on leave and while they’re on it. ‘Keeping In Touch’ days [ie when employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave] are brilliant. They can ensure that staff members still feel part of your business.
“Also, communicate well with other team members regarding covering workload. Some may wish to take on certain tasks to improve their skills, but people shouldn’t be expected simply to take on someone else’s work as well as their own. Overloading your staff isn’t the answer. You may need to take on someone as maternity cover. Start their recruitment early and involve the person they’ll be covering for.”
How important is it to support pregnant employees and new parents?
CW: “You should be as supportive of all your staff as much as is practical anyway, it encourages good working relationships. Pregnant employees can require more support, new parents, too – they’re going through a challenging life experience. But you must also consider other staff members, too, of course, and the needs of the business. It’s a matter of balance.”
Do you have any final words of advice?
CW: “Remember that there are additional health and safety considerations for pregnant workers and new parents. The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance on this. Specific risk assessments must be carried out for pregnant workers and those who are breastfeeding. It’s good practice to carry out a general assessment anyway, because women will often be pregnant without their employer knowing for at least two months. Then you can carry out a more specific assessment of their role when they tell you they’re pregnant. Review this as their pregnancy progresses. If in any doubt, seek tailored professional advice.”