Managing an employee's return to work
Parental leave should be a positive experience for you and your employer. To ensure this is the case here are some key factors you may want to consider:
- inform your employer as soon as you can of your pregnancy and leave plans
take time to fully understand your parental leave rights and obligations
- decide what’s right for you in your circumstances and negotiate with your employer
consider the needs of the organisation and what support you can offer them during your absence
- maintain contact with your organisation throughout your leave
- if you plan to work from home, discuss who will pay for the consumables i.e. phone calls, postage, printer ink
- prior to the birth, look at what childcare arrangements are available including factors such as location, providers, hours and booking a place in advance
after your baby is born, try and get into a routine that will support your return to work
- if you intend to continue breastfeeding after your return to work, discuss arrangements with your employer as early as possible
- think about what you will do if the baby is sick after you return to work – will you take sick-leave or will you organise at home care
- and try to be flexible as things may not always go as planned - have some contingency plans in place.
As a first time mother pregnant with twins and the primary earner for her family, Lynne started looking for information on paid parental leave early in her pregnancy. The organisation she worked for had no human resource policy for parental leave which meant Lynne did her own research on what leave was available. Lynne also made sure she talked to her employer about her pregnancy and leave plans early on. This included planning for hand-over and transition from her role to minimise the effect to the organisation.
Lynne ensured she maintained good communication with her employer throughout her pregnancy and finalised her leave details about a month before she left. Lynne, who worked 25 hours a week, arranged to take one full year parental leave (including the 14 weeks paid parental leave) with an option to return on a part-time basis in the second half of that year. As she was having twins, Lynne finished working at the office 29 weeks into her pregnancy and began to work from home part-time to ease into the change. She then maintained phone contact with her employer during the initial weeks of parental leave.
Six months after the twins were born, Lynne started working from home on a part-time basis picking up items of work that fitted with her availability and childcare arrangements. Lynne’s employer was flexible about her return to work and she was able to choose the work she wanted to take on and increase the load gradually. At times her employer arranged for meetings to be held at her home to enable Lynne to attend.
Lynne’s employer covered her expenses related to working from home including the cost of phone calls, printer ink and other stationery items. As well as financial and administrative support, her employer provided a support person to be available to her, should she need them.
Lynne returned to work at the office a year after going on leave and over time built up her hours of work to her original 25 hours per week. Lynne felt that paid parental leave was a great asset, which provided both a level of financial stability and valuable time for her to bond with her children.
Like many first-time mums Janice had no idea what motherhood would be like; what the child’s routine and needs would be, and how soon after the birth she would feel able to return to her full-time job. Fortunately her employer was flexible with leave arrangements. They were able to agree on parental leave options that would be flexible and included an option for Janice to return to work part-time initially. They decided that they would keep in contact during her leave with monthly phone calls. This enabled her employer to keep Janice up-to-date with what was happening with the business and let Janice keep her employer up-to-date with her plans to return to work.
One of the key factors Janice considered when planning her return to work was childcare. Like many first-time mums she did not realise how difficult it can be to arrange full-time care for a four month old baby. The crèche also needed to be close to her work as she intended to carry on breastfeeding after she returned to work.
Janice also discussed with her manager her intention to continue breastfeeding once she returned to work and arrangements were made to facilitate this. These included a quiet, private space (screened-off area in the sick-room) where she could feed the baby and express milk as required.
When Janice returned to her job, she worked 2 days a week as this was all the childcare she was able to arrange initially. Janice decided she wanted to keep working part-time hours and have some flexiblity, so made a request to her employer to change the terms and conditions of her job. They discussed the options and came to an agreement that Janice would continue working for two days a week for the first six months, and then increase to three days per week. Janice’s employment agreement was changed to reflect the new hours of work. Janice really appreciated her employer’s positive approach and the flexibility offered to her in taking parental leave and on her return to work. In turn, her employer’s enjoyed the benefit of retaining an experienced staff member.
In the early stages of her pregnancy Carolyn and her partner discussed sharing paid parental leave. They did some research and found that they were both eligible to take extended parental leave of up to 12 months between them. As the major income earner in the family, Carolyn decided she wanted to go back to work four weeks after the birth of the baby, and her partner would be the primary caregiver.
Carolyn and her partner filled in the leave forms for their respective employers, establishing their eligibility and started making plans for sharing the childcare. They then filled out the Inland Revenue forms for paid parental leave, and requested that 10 weeks of the payments be transferred to Carolyn’s partner Dave.
Carolyn took two weeks annual leave before the date her baby was due. However, even with all the best planning in place, Carolyn had to have an emergency caesarean birth and was unable to return to work at the pre-arranged time.
Fully understanding the situation, Carolyn’s employer organised to have her work covered from the time she was due back. Carolyn informed Inland Revenue of the change in her circumstances and consequently took the full 14 weeks paid parental leave. Her partner Dave took two weeks paternity leave, then started his extended leave once Carolyn returned to work.
Although it was not what they planned, the leave and support from their employers made it possible for Carolyn to fully recuperate before returning to work and eased some of the financial pressure at that time.
As the office manager at a busy central city supermarket, Vanessa’s role includes assisting staff members planning to take parental leave. She has found that most employees make contact with her soon after they find out they are pregnant. Some are aware that there is government funded paid parental leave but most know little about how or where to access it, so she is usually the main source of information about what they may be entitled to.
Vanessa provides staff with the appropriate forms, talks through the leave options available to them and helps them plan their parental leave. As supermarket work is primarily manual, Vanessa encourages staff to begin their leave at least two or three weeks prior to the expected date of birth, arranging sick leave and annual leave if necessary to enable the staff to take that time. If an employee has little or no leave available to them, Vanessa works with the employee on an individual arrangement to make sure they can take leave and get the rest needed.
Some mothers take longer than the 14 weeks paid leave and most return once their baby is six months old. Many mothers contact Vanessa about their return to work when their babies are four to five months old. She has found that their decision to return to work is often based on financial reasons.
When the mother begins to consider returning to work, Vanessa will arrange for the mother, the department manager and herself to discuss the options available. They look at how they can arrange work hours to fit the employee’s situation including childcare needs or to allow the mother to work while the father is at home to care for the baby.
Due to the nature of the work, the organisation experiences a reasonably high turnover in their casual staff. Vanessa has seen the benefits to the organisation from retaining existing staff and having employees return after parental leave. Employing new staff means re-training, recruitment costs and a period of downtime while the new employee comes to understand the role, whereas returning staff are trained, know the systems and are able to slot straight back into work. Providing flexibility for parents helps retain staff and ensures the organisation gets the benefits.
Vanessa believes paid parental leave also provides benefits to staff. It gives a new parent the opportunity to spend time with their baby while minimising any financial concerns. As the government pays for paid parental leave, there is no direct financial impact on the employer. It also allows the mother the opportunity to return to work without disadvantage to her position or pay, and helps the business retain trained and skilled staff.
Peter owns a bedding shop where both male and female employees have taken parental leave in the past. In running a small family focused business, Peter tries to be as flexible as possible to accommodate his employee’s requests. In each case he has been advised early about the pregnancy so there has been plenty of time to look at various leave options for the parents and to make plans to allow the business to manage over the leave period.
To date he has not had to employ additional staff to cover the work but he is aware that, as his business is growing this may be the case in the future.
Peter remains flexible about a mother’s return to work, staying in touch after the birth of the baby and keeping her up to date with the business.
He has established a ‘parents room’ in a disused storeroom, making it clean and habitable with sofas and tables which provides mothers a space in which to breastfeed, change nappies or store any gear they bring with them to work.
In one instance Peter recalls, a mother came to him wanting to return to work for financial reasons but hadn’t been able to arrange childcare. He checked to see if she had any leave available to ease financial strain and this allowed her more time to arrange childcare before returning to work.
Peter feels that the business has benefited from his flexible approach to employees taking leave as all but one employee has returned to work in the business, retaining skill, experience and adding positively to the workplace culture. He has also found that his employees have been flexible about accommodating the business needs, changing hours or roles when necessary, enabling the business to function smoothly and better respond to customer needs