Return to Work After Maternity Leave

29 January 2021

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting experience for employees. From an employer’s perspective, it’s a good idea to have some systems in place to manage the return to work. There are also discrimination risks as well as employee relations risks to be aware of if you mismanage an employee returning to work after maternity leave. 

What is maternity leave?

This is the time given to employees when having a child. Law entitles all employees to 42 weeks of maternity leave, regardless of the length of service or the number of hours worked.

Ireland’s statutory maternity leave is 42 weeks, which translates into 10.5 months. And paid leave is 26 weeks, which is 6.5 months.

Their employment contract continues while you are on maternity leave and you can continue to benefit from some of your rights under your contract. 

Law gives them the right to return to your job after your maternity leave. So you need to prepare for this.

Duration of maternity leave

One of the key aspects of the return to work after maternity leave is the timing. In general, you will discuss the duration of maternity leave before the employee’s maternity leave begins.

You should hold a meeting with the employee before the leave period begins where you can calculate a return to work date after maternity leave. The maternity leave should start not later than two weeks before the expected date of birth.

If a pregnant employee's birth occurs four or more weeks before the expected date, the maternity leave will begin on the earlier of these two dates:

  • The date the employee originally notified her employer as her intended first day of maternity leave.
  • The date of birth

When you hold the meeting before the employee begins her maternity leave, jointly confirm the rough return to work date after maternity leave.

Returning to Work

It’s vital to ensure that the employee returns to the same job on her return to work after maternity leave. Employer’s rights are limited by maternity protection legislation. You must not terminate an employee’s contract of employment while they are on any form of protective leave.

The employee has the right to return to work when the maternity leave ceases. Not only does she have a right to return to work, but she also must return to the role she held prior to taking maternity leave (or where this is not possible, to resume suitable alternative work).

Again, best practice dictates that you schedule a meeting with the employee just before her return from maternity leave to discuss how the return will take place. You can use this meeting to discuss any changes that have occurred while the employee was on leave. The employee may wish to discuss different options like a phased return to work after maternity leave or breastfeeding arrangements.

Notification of return to work

Under maternity leave legislation, the employee must provide you with a return to work notice after maternity leave. The employee should send this notification at least four weeks prior to the proposed return date.

If the employee does not send any such notification, you should contact the employee to confirm what her intentions are. Again, best practice would see you write to the employee to remind her of the four weeks’ notice requirement. This also allows you to confirm that the employee will definitely be returning to work.

If an employee fails to give the appropriate notification, you should not presume that this means she will not be returning to work after maternity leave. Ireland’s maternity protection legislation provides employees with strong rights and employers are exposed to discrimination claims on the ground of gender if they don’t comply.

The last thing you want after a period of maternity leave is a discrimination claim in the Workplace Relations Commission. Mishandling maternity leave can also fracture the relationship of trust between employers and staff. For those reasons, it’s an important area of HR to get right.

Need more information?

If you have any doubts about your legal obligations around maternity leave, make sure to get expert help.

Are you prepared to manage an employee’s return to work?  

If you would like further complimentary advice from an expert, our advisors are ready to take your call any time, day or night. Call us on 1890 252 923 or request a callback here.

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