What are the Maternity Leave Employer Obligations?

What to expect when your employee returns from maternity leave? Both legal and ethical, find out your maternity leave employer obligations

Employee Experience

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Gone are the days when women were depicted as having a single primary role: that of a stay-at-home parent.

These days, it is not uncommon for mothers to want to juggle career and motherhood, and as their employer, it is important to create an atmosphere where they can do just that.

Maternity leave employer obligations don’t just rest on the legal rights of someone returning to work but also on providing a supportive environment.

The following aims to serve as a maternity leave employer’s guide for successful reintegration.

Maternity leave employer obligations

When going back to work after maternity leave, the norms typically state that an employer must reinstate employees in their previous position and give them the income and the benefits to which they would have been entitled to had they remained at work.

Even prior to leaving, organizations must not discriminate against a woman based on pregnancy or the possibility of becoming pregnant. They must be accommodating to the expecting mother and even breastfeeding mothers returning to work.

Of course, legal obligations may differ between provinces and countries, but the point to retain is that a woman should never be penalized in her career due to pregnancy.

Legal commitments aside, there are others important maternity leave employer tips crucial to helping an employee get back into the swing of things.

Slow integration

A women coming back from having a baby, especially her first baby, will probably be a very different worker in the initial stages of her reintegration. And with good reason! She is no longer caring for her child on a full-time basis, therefore relying on someone else to do this for the first time since the baby is born.

Her year of “baby-talk” is now replaced with “grown-up” talk, story time and sing-alongs swapped for reports and conference calls, child support for client support! It’s a huge mental shift into the big bad world of business versus the big bad wolf.

She is probably going through a mixture of guilt, excitement, anxiousness, and self-doubt as she tries to take off from where she left off almost a year ago.

As her employer, it is important to remember that allowing a period for smooth and gradual transition will help her become more habituated with the new routine.

The most important thing you can give your reintegrating employee is TIME. Time to ease back into her responsibilities, to re-engage herself, to assume her role as a working woman. Employers may propose a part-time schedule at first, flexible hours to meet the pick-up requirements of daycares, even working from home a few days a week.

Just the fact of offering these integration possibilities can make a parent feel more understood and ultimately driven to go back and be that successful employee. Rushing or denying that this employee will need some time to get reacquainted may send her running faster than you can say Rubber Ducky.

Changes in flexibility

If you were used to this employee putting in long hours, traveling and being your go-to person for last minute tasks at the end of a work day, you may want to reconsider your expectations in the first few months of her return.

Of course, some women have the means and resources to undertake additional hours and late shifts, but for the most part, this flexibility is hard to come by in the beginning stages of her new family-career balancing act. Leaving a little earlier to abide by daycare hours or simply to be home in time to spend an hour or so with her child before bedtime is very common.

And if you find that this stresses you out as her employer, know that it probably stresses her out even more that she cannot be as available or put in those extra hours like she used to.

Remember the previous advice, give her TIME. Once a routine is set and she can grasp what a typical day in the life of a working mother looks like, she may just be able to stretch herself a little more.

Change management

Another important thing to consider when reintegrating an employee after maternity leave is how the work environment has changed since she’s been gone.

As an employer knee-deep in your work, you may need to step back and review all the new aspects of the organization in order to provide a recap. These could include new staff members, goals, successes and failures, information technology, and as little as not having parking spots available anymore.

You have to be sure to bring these changes to her attention, gradually, and to provide re-orientation programs or resources to clarify these transformations. Find out if she is very adaptable or if she has a difficult time maneuvering in grey areas. For people who have a harder time dealing with change, these adjustments can be seen as threatening and furthering them away from their comfort zone.

Know the natural reflexes of your employees!

Being attentive to this emotional transition

Finally, understand that this transition may be a very emotional time for your employee and that a little empathy can go a long way. She may be experiencing guilt, stress and anxiety, which can be normal reactions but should also be acknowledged and monitored.

Do systematic check-ins, ask how the family is doing, and allow her to be open with how she is feeling.

This maternity leave employer’s guide was definitely a reflection of my own experience as a mother returning back to work and I am thankful for the constant support and understanding of my peers.
Being one of those people having a harder time dealing with change, I worried about how I was going to adjust to my new schedule.

The fact that my employer acknowledged and has accepted this transition for what it is has given me a whole new meaning to Business Happiness, the AtmanCo slogan.

Now, what has YOUR experience been, as an employer?

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