Maternity Leave – Burden or Mutual Benefit?

The most common types of questions we get on the topic of maternity/parental leave are around whether an employee can be made redundant whilst on maternity leave, and what the employer’s rights are when it comes to an employee returning from maternity leave and requesting flexibility to their working arrangements.

If we dig a little deeper into the underlying concerns managers have when they want to explore these questions, it is often the unknown as to the productivity and commitment of the employee upon their return.

Promoting flexibility and supporting parents back into the workplace isn’t just your responsibility and obligation, it’s an important part of your people management strategy. Done well, it can also be an opportunity to truly demonstrate your integrity in the modern workplace and can be a real point of difference for companies who get it right.

The challenge for managers when faced with a returning employee or request to change previous arrangements is to think bigger picture and flexibly themselves, as it is often a case in which actions speak louder than words and they start to question if the role is really needed.

So, what are the facts when it comes to parental leave and flexibility?

With regards to what an employer is permitted to do within legislation, an employer can make an employee on parental leave redundant if the redundancy is genuine and the correct process is followed.  Furthermore, there is no requirement for an employer to agree to a request for flexible working arrangements, therefore, an employer can also refuse a flexible working request provided the refusal is based on reasonable business ground.

Businessary HR Manager Lauren McCleery comments “While the legislation allows for redundancies of employees on parental leave, I’ve found that in most cases when talking through the situation and the business needs with the manager, a redundancy and refusal of flexible working would not be genuine, and in some cases fabricated – leaving the business open to risk.”

Are you missing an opportunity? Viewing parental leave as an HR tool

Returning parents to the workforce and allowing increased flexibility can be an opportunity for employers.  Employees returning are often more motivated, productive and better able to juggle demands because they are very conscious of time restraints and being as efficient as possible.  This is something that can be utilised and fostered by managers and will ensure greater engagement, loyalty and performance for the business! It also helps ensure that you don’t lose the investment you’ve made in that employee, and the valuable intellectual property they’ve developed within their role. It can cost 1.5 – 2.5 times an employee’s salary to replace them if they leave because of the money spent on recruitment, retraining and inducting people into your business. And in specialist roles, where skills are hard to find, these costs are significantly higher.

Parental leave and flexibility makes business sense (and cents)

A study done by the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) found that paid parental leave schemes give medium to large employers an advantage and can actually help cut costs and deliver a better result to your bottom line. This may be due to reduced turnover/recruitment costs,.

On the flip side, employees that are not supported, refused flexibility and potentially terminated upon return not only send a person back out into the job market with a negative experience of the business, but also sends a negative message throughout the business for employees that remain, that may potentially be in that exact situation in the future.

Taking it up a level – prepare for the future workforce

Embracing parental leave, carer’s leave and flexibility arrangements can be more than an engagement and retention tool. It can also help to attract the best available talent and work to normalise caregiving – making it okay for single people, men, senior executives, anyone really, to take a block of time off or make flexible arrangements to care for an ailing family member or new child. Some countries and companies have begun to mandate parental leave for both men and women, which helps level the playing field for men and women at both home and work.

In a recent Forbes article, author Shelley Zalis noted ‘It’s unfortunate because we’re losing our best leaders to caregiving, yet caregiving qualities make the best leaders today.’

Do you want to talk to an HR Manager about your specific business situation? Get 30 Min Free HR Advice by calling (03) 9662 9900.

Melissa Montang