However, comments recently made by Lady Barbara Judge, who is one of the UK’s leading business women, would appear to be hitting right at the very heart of such concerns.
In the UK, a new mother is obliged to take at least two weeks maternity leave (four weeks if working in a factory) following the birth of her child and the parent is legally entitled to take a total of 52 weeks maternity leave for a newborn or adopted baby, inclusive of that initial two or four week period. The first 26 Weeks are classed as Ordinary Maternity Leave, the next 26 weeks, if taken, are Additional Maternity Leave.
If returning on or before the expiry of the Ordinary Maternity Leave period, the employer must keep the same job open for the new mum. If exercising the right to take Additional Maternity Leave, the employee can expect to return to a job on similar or equal terms. Rights to Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay differ but, either way, notice must be provided to the employer.
It is quite possible that new parents returning to work will find it difficult to accommodate both roles and wish not to return full time. Employers are obliged to consider requests for return on a part time or flexi time basis but are not obliged to agree if this does not suit or fit in with the needs of the business.
The factual circumstances referred to within the article published by the Telegraph on 11th October may have been more related to the financial crisis at the time as opposed to the fact that the employee had taken 12 months away from the office. Had the crisis not hit, the employer may not have had to look at costs savings and possible cuts; any employee could be at risk of redundancy in such a situation.
Many, but not all employers will engage a temporary worker to provide maternity cover and, in that situation, the workload remains unaffected and there is no reason why the new parent returning to work after such leave cannot continue to fulfil the same role as before the maternity leave.
If you require more information about what rights your employees have or what you are entitled to as an employee, please contact a member of our employment team on 01905 721600.