Parental leave – recap of the law and tips to manage maternity contracts

maternity-leave - Woman with her child

With the extension of paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks now in force (from 1 July 2018 – and plans to extend to 26 weeks by 2020), we thought it was timely to talk about managing your recruitment strategy for maternity leave contracts.

Firstly, a recap of key aspects to the law (there is a lot to cover, and we can’t cover it all here):

  • Parental leave is available to female employees having a baby, and to their spouses or partners.
  • Employers generally need to keep the role open for either six or 12 months depending on if the employee has worked there for six or 12 months (for an average of 10 hours per week).
  • The only cases where the employer doesn’t need to keep the job is if the employer decides that the job is a ‘key position’, or there is a redundancy situation. There are laws to deal with ‘key position’ situations.
  • From July 1, there was also an increase in the number of Keeping in Touch days (increase from 40 to 52 hours). These allow parents to do limited work while on parental leave.
  • Entitlement to Paid Parental Leave is not dependent on returning to work, like it used to be.
  • If an employee doesn’t go back to work at the end of their parental leave, their job ends on the day they started the parental leave, not the day they resigned or at the end of any notice period. This affects holiday pay.
  • Employees must give their employer three months’ notice before the baby’s due date that they intend on taking parental leave.
  • If an employee wants to return to work early they need to give 21 days’ notice – but the employer needs to agree in most cases.
  • When employing someone on a fixed term contract to cover maternity leave, make sure to state that the purpose of the role and that the person on leave may return to work early. You will still need to give the notice that is in the agreement for the fixed-term contract.

There is a lot of information on the Government website, and this is just a recap of some of the key parts for you.

Tips to manage paternity leave cover

In terms of recruiting a fixed term contract to cover maternity leave, it is very similar to recruiting a permanent position, considering the length. Often, if it’s a great role and for 12 months, people will even leave permanent roles for the opportunity. You need to present the opportunity in the same way you would a permanent role – starting with a great advertisement, strong communication of the benefits of the role and a positive experience for the candidates. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s not as important of a decision, just because it’s a fixed term contract.

Another option is to use the opportunity to build the team, and make the role permanent, rather than a fixed term contract. You can then direct this person into a new role when the person returns from maternity leave. This is a good strategy to use if you find you don’t have enough people applying for the role when it’s advertised as a fixed term contract.

Finish dates also have an impact of the appeal of a fixed term contract. A contract finishing in early December won’t be as appealing as one that takes someone through the Christmas period – after which it’s a lot easier to secure a new permanent or contract job.

Make sure you make a start on your recruitment activity in plenty of time – especially if someone has to give notice at their current role. As mentioned earlier, treat the process just like you would if it was a permanent role.

We have recruited many fixed term contracts to cover maternity leave, or even found Temps to cover the period. Talk to us about your specific situation and we would be happy to share our experience.

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