Whilst women are entitled to return to the same job after ordinary maternity leave, research undertaken by Reabur (www.reabur.com), which asked 1,926 employers their opinions on new mothers returning to work, seems to suggest that employers don’t necessarily think positively about women returning to work after their maternity absence.
The majority of employers who responded to the survey (64%) did not expect women to return to work after maternity leave regardless of their role within the organisation. And 16% of employers said that they didn’t actually want female employees coming back after their maternity leave, citing fears that new mothers would have a ‘reduced level of concentration’ once they returned to work and would ‘lack enthusiasm’ when compared to a newly hired member of staff.
Many women find it hard returning to work after maternity leave. Not only do many mothers experience physical barriers to returning to work (perhaps because they are often responsible for rushing back from work to collect children from childcare) but having a child is a life-changing event, which can change the way women feel about aspects of their lives; many mothers report reduced levels of confidence after having children, which can affect their ability to slot back into their former working role.
It is good practice for employers to keep in touch with female staff during their maternity leave as this will help new mothers keep abreast of what’s going on in the workplace, which will make the return to work less daunting. It is also important for employers to manage the return to work phase in a structured and efficient (yet supportive and sensitive) way. Many new mothers really do want to return to work and continue contributing to the organisation they work in.
Employers need to be aware of their responsibility towards ensuring the health and wellbeing of new mothers who have returned to work. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 include regulations that protect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers who work. Employers should already have done a risk assessment during pregnancy, but may well need to do another once the employee returns to work, for example if she is still breastfeeding. Employers can seek advice on ensuring the health and wellbeing of new mothers, or on related issues such as flexible working, by contacting the Health for Work Adviceline (www.heath4work.nhs.uk) on 0800 0 77 88 44.