Weekly Dilemma Maternity leave and married workers?
Q: Two members of a relatively small sales team got married last year and she is now five months pregnant. They are both key in terms of bringing in work for the whole business. We are concerned that they have requested to take leave at the same time, albeit some of it unpaid. It would leave the team very short staffed for at least one month. What if anything can we do without risking a potential discrimination claim?
A: Today both men and women are entitled to paternity and maternity leave and you cannot tell your employees when to take their leave or treat them differently because of their leave. However, if you have a good relationship with your employees you may feel that you could ask them to take it at a later date when it is more suitable for the company. All pregnant women cannot work during the two weeks following childbirth.
If however one or both of your employees are talking about unpaid parental leave it may be a different story. Employees with over one year’s continuous employment who expect to have parental responsibility for their child have the right to take up to 13 week’s unpaid parental leave in the first five years of the child’s life. Remember it is 13 weeks per child so if your employee has twins she will be entitled to 26 weeks. If the child is disabled this entitlement is 18 weeks during the first 18 years of the child’s life. However, parental leave can be postponed by the employer for up to six months if the business would be particularly affected by the leave e.g. during peak season. The only sectors exempt from this element of the parental leave legislation are the police force, armed forces or some fishing crews.
Employers and employees can agree their own procedures for how to take parental leave and you might want to consider establishing such agreements for the entire workforce. If so, remember that this agreement will need to be part of the employees’ employment contract.
If you do decide to go against the couple’s wish, remember to carefully consider if it really is justifiable. Many businesses still fall foul of the Sex Discrimination Act, especially in relation to pregnancy issues, and in these cases there is no upper limit on the level of compensation.
Published in Personnel Today.