Case study

Maternity leave and pay

Managing an employee's maternity leave - Inferno Communications

Inferno Communications devises and manages cutting-edge PR campaigns for some of the biggest names in technology, such as Microsoft, Sony and Palm. The company has grown from three to over 20 employees in five years and is proud of its range of forward-thinking employment policies. Here, managing director Grant Currie explains how the business approached a recent maternity leave situation.

What I did

Arrange the maternity leave
"When one of our account directors, Caroline Saunders, told us she was pregnant, we were genuinely pleased for her. We've always based our employment practices around a healthy work-life balance, so although Caroline was the first person in the company to take maternity leave, it was no big drama.

"Importantly, we already had a comprehensive maternity policy in place, so the first thing that happened was a sit-down meeting with Caroline to go through the policy and make sure she knew what to expect.

"While we obviously needed to discuss methods of keeping in touch during the leave, we wanted to give Caroline control over how this was managed. After all, if maternity leave is a stressful experience, your employee may be less inclined to return to work and you risk wasting time, money and client goodwill in finding a replacement."

Encourage communication
"Caroline arranged keeping in touch in consultation with me, her line manager and our HR representative. We were quite keen for her to take advantage of keeping in touch (KIT) days, which allow an employee to undertake up to ten days' work during maternity leave without affecting her maternity pay or leave so the system was explained before she went on leave.

"As an employer you can't insist on anyone working a KIT day, but in Caroline's case, she chose to take a number of KIT days in the weeks before returning because, as she puts it, she wanted to get back into the rhythm of work! KIT days included attending team meetings and client updates, mostly things that allowed her to re-engage with colleagues rather than working in isolation at home.

"We're a tightly-knit company, so some keeping in touch was achieved naturally through chatting to friends within the business. In addition, we made sure she was included in important communications internally. Caroline's line manager also visited her at home 12 weeks before she was due to return to talk about her role and discuss options for part-time working."

Make an investment
"Our maternity provision goes beyond the statutory minimum requirements, a decision which we believe helps us to recruit and retain the best staff.

"I think another reason why Caroline's maternity leave worked well is that there was flexibility on both sides, particularly when it came to keeping in touch. You can't second guess how someone is going to feel soon after the birth of a child and putting any kind of pressure on them would be detrimental to both the individual and the business in the long run.

"We were delighted to welcome Caroline back after her maternity leave. As I said to her at the time, I felt a bit like a football manager getting one of his best players back after being on loan!"

What I'd do differently

Be more aware of childcare arrangements
"While Caroline has generously expressed how happy she was with her maternity leave, we learnt retrospectively that she had struggled with childcare choices that had to be made prior to returning to work. Although it's a completely personal decision, I wish we'd facilitated a conversation about it so that we were at least aware of her concerns."