Maternity and paternity guidelines for SME business owners

As an employer, you always want to do what is right for your employees. With an SME, there is perhaps more a feeling of family than with larger companies

Maternity and paternity guidelines for SME business owners

The same should be true, when one of your employees says they or their partner will have a baby or plan to adopt a child. As their boss, you should help them to feel happy at this exciting time.

Sadly, a 2004 survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that around a third of SMEs felt that maternity leave placed an undue burden on the rest of the employees, against a fifth of larger companies. Perhaps more staggering is another survey, which found nearly two-thirds of SME’s did not expect mothers to return to work after maternity leave. It may be partly in your hands as an employer to determine how you make them feel before, during and after the baby has arrived. 

What your employee is entitled to

All pregnant employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ leave. Depending on their length of service with you, they may also be entitled to statutory maternity pay.

Adoptive parents are also entitled to this, but the notification is slightly different to register their date of being matched. It is a good idea to have a policy that clearly explains the steps the prospective parent has to take and when.

Although everyone is entitled to 52 weeks of leave, some staff return early or take shared parental leave with their partner – as only the first 39 are paid.

Do remember they all accrue holiday during their time away which can be added to their leave.

Some companies may choose to have a more generous contractual arrangement, which would override the above statutory rules.


Early decisions to make are whether you will bring in a temporary replacement or rely on a rejig of your existing staff.

A temporary maternity hire could be the more effective solution. This may be an internal candidate who could take on the role. This is a good way to develop individuals, but make sure they know what will happen at the end of the cover period.

Alternatively, you may decide to employ a temporary replacement. As with any recruitment process, ensuring you have a clear job description and person specification will help you find the right fit for your maternity cover.

A fixed term contract that allows for itself to be terminated in the event that the member of staff returns early is essential.

If you can arrange it so that the start date of the leave overlaps with the person they are replacing, allowing for an in-person handover, so much the better.

A third way of managing their absence is to temporarily outsource the role.


Communication is key, whilst an employee is on maternity, adoption or paternity leave. Just like we have spoken about during the COVID-19 restrictions and since with people working from home. “Out of sight, out of mind” is definitely not what you are striving for. Remember to always make them part of any consultation period and pay reviews.

It is important to offer the paid 10 “Keeping in touch” days, which helps ensure the employee still feels part of the company.  If they wish to use them it is a good way to keep them up to date with changes, as you can invite them to training, staff meetings and of course, social events. When they return to work, this will make the process easier to achieve.

Returning to work

Should the employee wish to return early or not return at all they must give you their contractual notice in writing.

Many may wish to change their working practices to fit with child care and by using the flexible working rules request this. This might be reduced hours or days and you should follow the usual flexible working practices.

After so long absent from work a phased return is recommended as the smoother the transition the better.

Sue Tumelty
Sue Tumelty