The law according to Helen

Helen Climance, is Working Mum’s resident employment expert. A mother of two boys, aged 7 and 5, she knows only too well the kind of issues working mothers face. Helen used to work four days a week until last year when she went full time.

She says she does find the whole work/life juggle difficult, but she has lots of support. School holidays can be problematic, but she is lucky that her partner is a self-employed piano teacher so his hours can be quite flexible and she has family nearby. Inevitably, though, there is the odd occasion when things go horribly wrong. For instance, her youngest son was ill while her mum was on jury service. Then after the children have been ill, she inevitably picks up their illness, but has to keep going.

She says she is lucky that her employer, Lemon&Co Solicitors, a leading full service law practice based in the centre of Swindon with some 40-50 employees, is relatively flexible and allows her to drop her children off at school in the morning.
In return, she has to be flexible. As a professional, there are times when, for example, she has reading to do in the evenings, particularly in preparation for employment tribunals. On the days of employment tribunals – Helen has one approximately every six to eight weeks – there is usually an early start and a late finish. The tribunal hearings usually last one to two days. In addition, most of the tribunals are held in Bristol or Reading whereas she is based in Swindon. This means she has to leave home around 7.30am. Luckily, her mum lives nearby and can take the children to school.
On the up side, Helen gets 25 days holiday and time off for Christmas. Holiday times can be difficult, but she has just found a good, reasonably priced play scheme and says it is easier now that her children are older. “They are delighted to go,” she says, “whereas when they were at pre-school it was harder.”
Helen says she has seen a definite increase in her workload in recent months as the economic situation worsens. “In this job we do see a number of redundancies at the moment. We are getting a lot of calls from employers and employees.” The people who have been calling Lemon&Co’s employment law team are from a broad range of industries. “There is a lot of tightening of belts going on,” she says, “and it’s across the board.”

Mainly it is the smaller employers who are involved in legal action because they do not understand the full consequences of what they are doing, says Helen. This might be because they cannot afford legal advice or do not have any human resources people on their staff. “The sensible employers get legal advice before they take any decision about redundancies,” she adds. “It is worthwhile and could save the company a lot of money.” She says there is a myth that redundancy packages are expensive which may be why some employers try to cut corners. In fact, the statutory redundancy pay is roughly £330 for every week a person has been employed. Those on higher salaries tend to get more and some firms have their own generous redundancy schemes.

Helen says she has been getting quite a lot of calls from mothers who have been made redundant while they are on maternity leave. “It’s not always unfair,” she says, “as long as they have not been selected for any reason connected to their pregnancy or maternity leave”.  But she adds that employers could see the recession as an opportunity to hire an experienced part-time worker rather than a full timer and so cut costs. Despite the recession though, she realises that she is in one of the professions that looks unlikely to be making job cuts in the next few months.


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