SM Writes: I have an employee who is returning to work following maternity leave and I want to ensure that the transition is a smooth as possible. As an employer, what can I do to ensure that I am supporting working mothers?

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees due to their pregnancy or maternity. Pregnant employees have the right to be treated the same as all other employees, and those returning from ordinary maternity leave (within 26 weeks of going on maternity leave) even have the right to the exactly the same job they did before they went on maternity. Even if the employee chooses to take their entitlement to additional maternity leave (up to the full 52 weeks’ maternity leave), they are still entitled to return to the same job they had if it remains practicable and, if not, to a job on no less favourable terms, conditions and status to their previous role.

After having a baby, parents may struggle to find the balance between work and their new family responsibilities. This can be hard for many, and some mothers never return to work as they cannot fit both responsibilities in. This is why it is important for employers to support mothers and help them find a way to balance work and personal life. In order to do that, flexible working can be a solution for many working parents. You can give your employees a copy of your flexible working procedure and make sure that everyone is aware of it. Each employee can make a flexible working request once every 12 months which can incorporate changes to their hours, working times, place of work or a combination. You are required to consider each request and can only refuse due to one of the statutory set business reasons.

If returning to work earlier than originally notified, employees must notify you at least 8 weeks before their new return date. If they have given you the required notice, you can use this time to make arrangements, such as allocate a desk for them, schedule in refresher induction training if necessary, allocate time for handover from the employee currently covering the duties and responsibilities, etc.

If the employee has failed to give you the required 8 weeks’ notice, if you can allow them to return you can, however if you cannot facilitate their return due to the short notice you can set a return date allowing for 8 weeks’ notice.