Best practice for managing maternity leave for line managers

Before your colleague goes on maternity/adoption leave

“Check your organisation’s policies before you begin any conversation with your colleague. Ask for support from HR if you need to.”

Solicitor, in-house, third sector

1 Keep an open mind - ask, don't assume

Demonstrate a desire to get things right by asking your colleague what she would like or needs from you at various stages. For example, how much and what type of contact whilst she is away (and understand this may change); what help with bringing knowledge up to date she wants and how she would like you to facilitate re-engaging with clients. It is better to ask than assume you know your colleague's preferences. Be on the front foot and make suggestions about what you think might be appropriate with the caveat that they are only suggestions and you are keen to hear what he/she thinks. For example, you might say: “It could be an option for you to do a phased return over a couple of weeks, what do you think?” You don’t have to have all the answers as a line manager; you just need to demonstrate a commitment to finding them.

Katy Wedderburn, Macroberts
"Discuss plans for leave and return before the child comes. KIT. Discuss client/business needs to try to agree how they can be met. Listen. Don't say: ‘You have the rest of your life to be a lawyer.’ Remember what is crucial is the needs of your business, and that you can say no (take advice first!). In practice, many law firms meet those client needs with careful planning, and engagement with the employee about how the work will be done. Your business will benefit from a family leave returner if they are motivated and well engaged in the business. Many of them work more than their contractual hours.”

Katy Wedderburn, partner, MacRoberts LLP

"Don't make assumptions about what your colleague will be prepared to do, now that they have a family. Treat them the same as before - they will tell you if something is no longer achievable for them. Don't be judgmental - if they get in a bit late in the morning or have snot on their shoulder, so what? Their life has become much more difficult to juggle, but they will get there, with the support and understanding of colleagues.”

Lindsey Cartwright, partner, Morton Fraser

2 Agree how you'll keep in touch

The majority of employees want to maintain contact with their colleagues whilst on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave and your team member probably wants more contact with you, the line manager, than you might realise. In a recent study of professional women's return to work experiences, one in three said they hadn't had enough formal contact with their line manger and/or other colleagues.

Do Say “How would you prefer me to stay in touch (phone, text, email) and how much contact would you like? What, if anything, would you like to be kept up to date on whilst you're away?”

3 Encourage Keep In Touch (KIT) days

Your team member can have up to ten Keep In Touch, or KIT, days during maternity leave without bringing her statutory maternity pay or leave to an end. KIT days are a tool to smooth your colleague's transition from maternity leave to being back at work. Anecdotal reports are that employees who make use of them have an easier return to work - and that's good for you, the wider team as well as your returning colleague. There's no prescribed format for KIT days and they can be used to undertake a large range of work-related activities. In addition to KIT days, if an employee chooses to bring maternity or adoption leave to an end early and take up shared parental leave, both parents are eligible for up to 20 shared parental in touch days (SPLIT days).

Do Say “Have you considered Keep In Touch days? Other maternity leavers say they helped them. We could use them for...”

Linda Urquart
"Reassurance is really important. Even little things like where you'll sit when you come back make a difference, if that has changed. Inviting their colleague in the week before they come back to run through that kind of thing and then making them welcome (and being understanding if they're a bit distracted initially - worrying about whether their child is OK in childcare) is really supportive.”

Linda Urquhart, Chairman, Morton Fraser

What the law says about KIT days:

  • Both you and your employee need to agree to KIT days as there's no legal right to them.
  • They can be taken at any point during maternity leave except for the two weeks immediately after the baby's birth. KIT days can even be taken before your baby is born.
  • Any part of a day worked on maternity leave (even just an hour) counts as a whole KIT day. A KIT day might include working from home.
  • No law exists about how much your team member should be paid when doing a KIT day, although she must be paid at least the minimum wage. Many employers top up employees' maternity pay on a KIT day to the equivalent of a regular day's pay, although you don't have to. This is something to agree in advance and your organisation may have a policy.

Possible uses of/activities to do on KIT days

  • Planning meetings
  • Budget meeting
  • Project scoping meetings
  • Annual strategy meeting
  • Attending a conference
  • Training course
  • Reading legal updates
  • Reading case files
  • Client events
  • Team away day
  • Team meeting
  • Meeting new members of the team
  • Recruiting new member of the team
  • Conducting direct reports' performance reviews (in conjunction with your cover)
  • Agreeing your comeback plan (see below)

[1] Survey conducted by The Talent Keeper Specialists in 2011 and published in 'Maternity Comeback Report - Strategies for Success' available of www.talentkeepers.co.uk

This may account for half of those respondents saying they hadn't continued to feel part of the wider organisation.