Returning to work following a long period, such as maternity leave, can feel daunting even at the best of times. During these uncertain times any apprehension is likely to be heightened so discussing any concerns and planning for the return is more important than ever.

It might be helpful to point the employee towards the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidance . This gives a range of pregnancy related advice, guidance and hopefully some reassurance which could help with any concerns.

Duration of maternity leave and return date

It's important to keep in touch with your team member during their maternity leave. Keeping them updated and feeling part of the team will make their return easier.

It also provides a useful opportunity to discuss the arrangements for their return in plenty of time so that these can be thought through, understood, agreed and in place ahead of the return. Don’t forget you can use Keep in Touch days to do this. Speak to your HR adviser for more information about Keep in Touch days.

The HMRC regulations state that after the baby is born the mother must take 2 weeks’ maternity leave. After this you can choose whether or not to end your maternity leave early.

Return to work after maternity leave

If you wish to return to work at the end of the 52 weeks maternity leave you do not need to do anything. If you wish to return to work before the end of your full entitlement you need to provide your manager with at least 21 days’ notice appropriate notice.

Find out more in our maternity leave, pay and arrangements document, section 2.2.

Shared parental leave

Employees have an alternative right to end their maternity leave early and take the rest of the leave as shared parental instead. The arrangements for this are different: the employee needs to do this formally by giving ‘binding notice’ to end their maternity leave early in writing to their manager, providing at least 8 weeks' notice.

Find information about shared parental leave.

Planning for the return to work

Following maternity, it's the manager’s responsibility to make sure that employees:

  • feel supported
  • feel welcomed back to the team and their role
  • are updated on any changes that may have occurred during their absence

As a manager you need to be mindful that we're not in a steady state at the moment. We're working through how COVID-19 is affecting us now and what precautions we need to take in the future to help support frontline services.  So it’s important to keep checking with your team members to make sure that you provide the right information and level of support to your returning team member.

As early as possible (ideally before the employee's return to work) take the opportunity to discuss any concerns about the current situation and what support they might need to help with their return.

This will help you to jointly agree a return plan. There's lots to think about so make sure you've considered all the following:

  • how are they feeling about returning to work?
  • do you need to review their working hours or working pattern (this may be a permanent change or just temporarily for COVID-19 related reasons)?
  • are the current temporary schools or nursery closures going to cause them difficulty in undertaking their role or contracted hours?
  • are they clear about their work location? Some teams have relocated since the creation of Dorset Council
  • do they need a temporary alternative work location due to COVID-19 restrictions, including the need for social distancing? For some people this might be working from home for all or part of their working week or from an alternative location
  • if they are a key front-line worker make sure they're aware of any specific social distancing arrangements or new working arrangements that have been put in place to enable them to undertake their role safely
  • has a risk assessment been carried out? What adjustments have been identified (if any)?

Risk assessments for new mothers

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees during the various stages of pregnancy and following childbirth. As a manager this means that you must to undertake a risk assessment ahead of the return to work date to ensure that any risks have been identified and any necessary adjustments have been agreed and are in place. Speak to your HR adviser to find out more about risk assessments for new and expectant mothers.

Now you need to pay particular attention to any restrictions that are in place due to COVID-19, for example the need for social distancing, shielding and/or the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) where needed. You need to make sure that they are understood and in place.

Although there's currently no specific evidence to suggest that COVID-19 poses an increased risk to new mothers, it's important to take the time to discuss any concerns and make every effort to mitigate against any potential or perceived risks.

Each risk assessment will be individual and specific to the role being undertaken. Where an employee is returning to a front facing role it is particularly important to consider what arrangements can be put in place to mitigate against any risk of infection. This could be arrangements such as working from home (where this is possible) or working in a way that ensures that social distancing is maintained.

Where this is not possible due to the nature of the role further specific advice on what adjustments could be considered can be sought by contacting us at either or calling 01305 221313.

Temporary COVID-19 related requirements are being reviewed constantly by the government and Public Health England due to the fast-changing situation. We advise you to re-visit the risk assessment regularly to make sure it's still appropriate.

Tips and advice to help them to settle employees to work

Being away from the working place for such a long time means that settling back will need to supported and structured. So much may have changed:

  • a new council
  • new structures
  • new ways of working
  • the new Intranet pages
  • new technology, for example Skype and Teams
  • some new policies and procedures

Everyone’s needs will be different, so the best starting point is always to ask. Read our questions and prompts to help you with this:

  • what do they need to help them to settle back into work?
  • what areas do they feel they may need more support with?
  • discuss flexible and remote working arrangements. You will need to liaise with IT as early as possible about any technology requirements
  • would it be helpful for them to have a designated buddy within the team or elsewhere in the service so they have someone they can contact for any small queries or just a chat. Lots will have changed since they were last at work
  • if the team members they usually work with are now working remotely, consider setting up some orientation calls so that the employee can meet with you and their team virtually on a 1-2-1 basis. This may have changed since they were last at work. Video calls are best to help build rapport
  • make sure your employee has meaningful work to do. Think about giving them a project to keep them busy for the first few week. This will help them get used to being back at work and/or working remotely if the team are mainly working remotely at this time
  • use Skype and Microsoft Teams to increase collaboration across the team. Consider holding ‘team lunches’ or social time to check in with each other
  • consider a team WhatsApp group to increase social interaction within the team during this period of remote working
  • if the role they're returning to isn’t frontline or business critical, do they have a skillset which could be helpful elsewhere in the organisation? If so, consider if it's appropriate to discuss with them registering for the skills agency (internal redeployment pool). Speak to your HR adviser about this

Once they've settled back to work make sure your employee is:

  • up to date with any mandatory training
  • familiar with the behaviours framework
  • aware of the location of the council’s terms and conditions, policies and procedures
  • aware of how to access wellbeing support if they need it
  • aware of the various options for time off for parents

Speak to your HR adviser for more information.

Accrual of annual leave

Employees on maternity or adoption leave continue to accrue annual leave during their paid and unpaid maternity or adoption leave period whether they return to work or not.

On returning to work, employees have the right to carry forward any outstanding annual leave from the previous leave year if they do not return until a new leave year has commenced.

If an employee returns to work within the current leave year but is unable (due to time constraints or operational requirements) to take their full annual leave entitlement, they can carry forward outstanding leave into the next leave year.

If carry over of leave is more than 5 days, managers need to send the carry over of annual leave form to

When leave is carried over to a new leave year the expectation will be that it is taken as soon as possible, usually within 3 months of the new leave year.

To minimise operational disruption, managers can agree that a period of annual leave is taken directly at the end of a period of maternity or adoption leave prior to any actual return to work.

If you choose to pay pension contributions to cover the period of unpaid maternity or adoption leave, taking paid leave can affect the level of contributions. Contact the Pensions Helpline for more information.

Other than leavers, payment will not normally take place in lieu of annual leave.

If an employee returns to work on reduced hours, the annual leave entitlement will be based on the hours worked before they went on maternity leave, up until the date of return to work on reduced hours. It will then accrue based on the new working hours.

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