Maternity leave: how and when to begin conversations with your employer

When should you begin conversations about maternity leave and return to work? has some advice.

mother with her baby


Updated in August 2023

It’s true to say that having a baby is perhaps the most special time in a woman’s life. It’s also likely that it’s a time when your mind goes into complete overdrive – there are so many things to worry about, including how you can sustain a career and a sufficient income. Concerns such as ‘How and when should I tell my boss?’ and ‘Will I now be demoted?’ are very common for many mothers-to-be.

Informing your employer

The best time to inform your employer of your pregnancy is after 12 weeks and once you have had your scan. When exactly you decide to tell them is your own choice, but the earlier the better as they will need to carry out maternity risk assessment in terms of the environment you work in. Telling your employer early will also give them time to organise maternity cover.

The latest you can inform your employer about the pregnancy is at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due, and, where this isn’t possible, they must be told as soon as possible. A good first point of contact might be your Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) for confidential advice, if you have one. If you have a good relationship with your line manager, then you might approach them first for an informal conversation. Once HR or equivalent have been informed, your pregnancy becomes official in the eyes of the company.

Support during your pregnancy

Deciding on how you want your employer to support you during maternity leave is very important, and worth thinking about early on. However, communicating this can be difficult for both parties – for you and your manager. There has been so negative press about pregnancy discrimination and many employers are nervous about saying the wrong thing and potentially getting into a legal battle. Sometimes, they simply find it easier to say as little as possible, which can be misunderstood as not wanting to fully support you.

For this reason, many employers already recognise the potential of maternity coaching and there is no harm in asking if this kind of support is available. Maternity coaching can help women overcome personal anxieties about their career progression and what they can expect on their return to work. Correctly identifying these initial emotions helps women feel in control of the situation. It also gives the coach a direction for creating an efficient coaching plan which summarises key objectives and milestones that both the employee and employer want to achieve.

Maternity leave and returning to work

Considering future working options at an early stage, even before your maternity leave starts can be as helpful for you as for your employer. It might be that you want to opt for more flexible working options. Talking about these early on will help you to find the best possible way and also gives your employer enough time to make necessary adjustments.

It’s crucial that employees and employers cooperate as managing maternity leave is not easy for either. The conversations are often sensitive, but it’s better to have them than not.

Questions that you might want to discuss with your manager:

–         Who will cover my role while I’m away?

–         What is the pay policy for maternity leave?

–         Can I combine maternity leave with paid time off?

–         What happens to my holiday?

–         What ‘stay-in-touch’ support is there during maternity leave and who organises it?

–         What options are there for transitioning back to work?

Expecting a child is an important time in a woman’s life. There will inevitably be concerns along the way, but through effective communication, many of these concerns can be addressed early on.

* Flora MacDonald is a Senior Consultant at Right Management.

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