The poisoned chalice of paid maternity leave

Oct 17 • Featured, Uncategorized • 878 Views • 10 Comments on The poisoned chalice of paid maternity leave

Once again the maternity pay rights debate has flared up, with MEPs being urged to vote against plans to introduce 20 weeks maternity pay for all women.

Of course, in an ideal world, all women would be entitled to a full year's worth of maternity pay; their partners or mums or whoever would be able to take off three months on full pay to support them.

But this is not an ideal world. The harsh reality is that for many employers, the prospect of supporting women through months of maternity pay is not an attractive or even a viable option (particularly if they're a small business).

I've been on both sides of the fence, as a boss and an employee; I know it's a pain when one of your employees goes on maternity leave and you have to find someone to cover for them for the best part of a year because they keep delaying their return. What often happens is the company you're working for seizes the opportunity not to cover the absentee and the remaining staff end up doing their work as well as their own, which causes hostility and resentment.

And I also know what it's like to have given birth and be expected to go back to work almost immediately or risk losing your job. One woman on the national newspaper where I used to work was fired the day she returned. Another friend was fired while she was on maternity leave; another was taken to a tribunal. And the horror stories go on.

If women of child-bearing age are given rights to longer maternity leave, this may affect their chances of employment with small businesses or those larger firms stuck in the stone age. I'm not for one minute saying that's right; it shouldn't make any difference to your employability whether you have kids or not, of course it shouldn't. But the truth is, even in 2010, for some companies, it does.

I'm not sure what the solution is – more company creches would be a start, obviously. Meanwhile, I'm worried it may be a case of be careful what you wish for for many women who may suddenly find it that much harder to get a job if their employer suspects they will be taking off even more paid leave to have a baby. Mums and mums-to-be are still being discriminated against, and that's shocking.

I'd love to hear your views.

written by Liz Jarvis

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10 Responses to The poisoned chalice of paid maternity leave

  1. Laura CYMFT says:

    Great post Liz. I’m really lucky to work for a company who have always been very supportive when I took maternity leave. They’ve been fantastic with the hours I’ve requested when I returned. I think it would be unrealistic to expect a company to pay women full pay for their maternity leave. At the end of the day it is a woman’s choice to have a baby and this should not be denied but we can’t expect companies to pay full pay for someone who isn’t working with them. Of course, if the government are going to be the ones providing these earnings like they currently do then why not just increase how much they pay out. Although to be frank, it seems a bit daft to increase the mat pay and then cut CHB for certain families. It’s a tricky subject and one that I’m sure will generate a lot of debate. I wish more employers would offer a creche though. If there was a creche at my work I think I’d definitely consider doing more hours.

  2. Baby Genie says:

    And for self employed people like me who only get the basic £500 per month for 9 months, I’m worried if that will be cut. It’s a real tough one, if you’re employed, the better benefits do come at a high price maybe.

  3. Ali Sparklypips says:

    I’m both a newish mum and I own an SME. I don’t feel any conflict though. My (and my male business partner’s) attitude has always been that we need the right people in the right roles, no – the best people. Regardless of gender, parental responsibility, or any other attribute not directly affecting their ability to do the job well. To this end, we strive to make our workplace competitive enough to attract those people, knowing that it’s best for our business as well as our employees. So, if the best person for the job needs crèche facilities nearby, we support them in getting that. If they need flexible hours, we arrange that. Mum, dad, part-time student, whatever. It might require a bit of extra effort, it might require financial stability in order to cover ma/paternity leave, but it’s worth it to attract the right talent. It’s why our business suceeds in hard times when others fall. As an SME owner, I have a responsibility, not a burden, to ensure that my business is strong enough to cope with these issues. If it couldn’t, well I’m doing something wrong.

  4. Jenny says:

    It’s a tricky topic as I think you are right that more onerous demands on employers can lead to them being unwilling to employ women. I can also accept that finding short term affordable cover can be tricky especially in smaller companies. I’ve found my paid leave to be invaluable and consider myself incredibly lucky I work for an employer that offers a great maternity package. And this does make them highly appealing as an employer which must be beneficial to them. But to cone back to the issues facing some businesses I think there are two things we need: firstly I think there is a role for the state in helping fund more leave at full or almost full pay. Employers would still have the challenge of covering the role but this is likely to be easier if you know your employee will be off for a longer period of time. Secondly I think we need more paid leave for dads. Not just a token unpaid couple of weeks but a serious paid amount of leave. It’s only through equality here that women will not face discrimination. Plus more dads will get the chance to fully participate in their little ones first months. Both these ideas will cost but ultimately I think the impact on and benefit to business, not to mention parents, make it well worth it.

  5. Lorraine The Party Times says:

    Hi all, I love Ali’s comments. It will always be such a tricky subject as everyone feels so strongly about. Personally I think the goverment need to support mums more during maternity leave as can see how difficult it is for smaller companies to absorb costs like these but goverment support is unlikely with new plans to axe child benefit ….now don’t get me started on that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Debbie - Motivating Mum says:

    This is one of the trickiest questions ever. I can also see both sides and I don’t envy the government trying to sort it out, as some people will be unhappy whatever the decision is. Unfortunately there is no way for mums to have it all – there isn’t enough of ‘it all’ to go round. I wish we could all be mums of our babies for as long as we want/need to, and then slot back into the workplace exactly where we left off. But in most jobs that is just not feasible. I feel so lucky when my turn came that I was able, with the support of my partner to say no to employment and to set up a small business that doesn’t need childcare.

  7. Natalie says:

    I love the fact that you’re honest and realistic about this issue Liz because often when I do read pieces on this subject they’re very unbalanced and unrealistic. I’ve seen what you’ve written about time and again and I also had my own dubious experiences including returning to work to no desk, no phone, no laptop and no job actually organised and formalised despite being wooed back to work and told it was imperative to start early. It’s no wonder I started working for myself four days later… The reality is that there will always be some companies that handle maternity leave badly whether it’s 2010 or 2110 but for everyone else I think it’s a mix of more effort on the parts of both the government, employers, and even to an extent employees. In retrospect, I realise that even if my company had been semi decent about things, I got unexpectedly pregnant about 8 months after I would have gone back, so I wouldn’t exactly have been flavour of the month even though they would have grinned and bared it.

  8. angelsandurchinsblog says:

    As someone self-employed, I’d love a properly paid stint of maternity leave, but I guess that’s another story…! Anyway, surely it’s better to allow mothers to take some proper time off to be with their baby so that when they return their mind is on the job? Coming back after a few weeks, as friends have had to do in the States, is a complete nightmare. And do firms really miss out that much? They don’t always in a financial sense because the government pays statuatory maternity pay, and not the employer. I know it’s difficult to find someone to replace an employee, but if women always went for a year then finding a replacement for them would be far easier. It’s the not knowing that’s so hard for businesses in my experience.

  9. Donna says:

    I think a solution to this would be to have maternity leave available to both men and woman. It would make it difficult for companies to discriminate against women if men had the right to take paid maternity leave instead of their partners. If I earn more than my husband it would make more sense for him to take maternity leave than take such a huge wage loss. I hope I am making sense. I currently am on maternity leave from a company who offered me redundancy with several weeks pay in order to not have to pay for my leave. They suggested I claim maternity allowance and take a small pay off from them. They obviously don’t want me back either, not because I am not good at my job but because they employed someone else to fill my position as I took a full years leave. When I go back they have no job for both of us and I know because I am a young woman with a young family it is my position at the company which is at risk. I am due to go back very soon and in all truthfulness I dont want to go back, the company put so much pressure on me leaving or taking redundancy before I went on maternity that my doctor signed me off sick, for a number of weeks, until my leave started. I contacted my company for information on when I am due to go back several weeks ago, still no response even though they said they’d get back to me. I have had my shifts changed at the drop of a hat because they know I have to find childcare. What they do not know is my mum doesn’t work and is always willing to have my babes. They have looked over and over for issue with my work but I have never put a foot wrong so they can look as much as they like they will not find anything. It is so unfair that I have been put in this position because I want a family. I am prepared to fight for my position at the company but I cant abide being there after this treatment so it really is only a matter of time before I hand my notice in anyway but because they do not know that, they will continue to try and find ways to force me out the door. All this because I wanted to have children and seriously it isn’t the half of it. I know companies struggle, especially in the current climate, but don’t they realise that we struggle too? I’m already on half pay for taking maternity leave dont they realise that many families cant afford to take any more leave than the bare minimum because they couldn’t keep afloat on the reduced pay? Life no matter which way you look at it is always going to be unfair for someone, I am not sure there is anyway to solve this issue, its a case of damage limitation; who takes the hit for the benefit of the majority??

  10. Crystal Jigsaw says:

    Do you know what annoys me about maternity pay and maternity issues? The fact that without women, our world would come to an abrupt halt. We were all born once, to a woman who either gave up working altogether if she were a stay at home mum, or gave up work for a while in order to nurture her new born – i.e. us. The MEP’s should remember that when they’re deliberating over pay issues and how long a woman can have off, and think about their own mothers who have already been through it. CJ xx

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