As wonderful as it is to learn that an employee has some exciting news on a pending ‘new arrival’, it can naturally be a challenging time for employers as they begin to think about how the leave of a valued employee could impact the business, and how the absence will be covered. In a nutshell, female employees can take up to 52 weeks’ of maternity leave with partners taking either one or two weeks’ of paternity leave; or alternatively, in accordance with the relatively new provisions, up to 50 weeks’ of shared parental leave.
Whatever the size of a business, covering a period of maternity or paternity leave presents operational issues and it is essential to adopt the right approach. This means supporting the employee to take the leave without any undue worry about work; meanwhile simultaneously ensuring business needs continue to be met.
Scheduling an employee’s leave as early as possible is key; particularly as weeks and months running up to the start of the leave period tends to fly by. Equally, even the best plans can have a tendency to go awry and leave dates can often change in these situations, so it is important to have a solution in place as far in advance as possible.
But where should you start?
Always begin by considering internal capacity and whether there is any scope to allocate the work to other members of the team in the short term.
If the workload cannot be re-distributed (as is very often the case), the second phase is to consider other potential internal solutions, such as a possible secondment. Arranging for another employee to transfer into the role on a temporary basis can often present a good opportunity for development; in addition to affording the cover needed for the period of maternity or paternity.
Naturally, in the absence of any reasonable internal solutions, external recruitment on a temporary or fixed-term basis may be a good alternative. However, in some situations, these roles can be less attractive to candidates (and more difficult to fill on this basis). If this is the case, the usual recruitment processes may not generate the requisite level of interest. Therefore, it may be worth considering working with a reputable recruitment agency that not only understands the role you are looking to fill, but also appreciates the values of the business in order to source appropriate potential candidates. If the agency doesn’t ask about the company culture or values, they won’t necessarily be able to deliver the right candidates for you. It is always worthwhile discussing and agreeing preferential rates from the outset to mitigate the costs involved.
Whatever solution you arrive at, remember that it is good practice to allow for a handover either side of the leave period and try to manage expectations by explaining that the dates of the working arrangements may change (for example, an employee could return to work early or extend the leave by tagging on accrued holiday). Equally, be clear from the outset that any job offer is limited to the period of maternity, paternity or parental leave. With that said, confirming that the successful candidate may be considered for any other suitable vacancies within the business may be attractive to potential candidates.
Kelly is an experienced and CIPD qualified human resources manager with extensive generalist and operational HR expertise, which is further supplemented by over 19 years with Spencers Solicitors. Kelly finds her role incredibly rewarding and is passionate about delivering a diverse range of HR solutions.