Returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting and emotional experience for new mothers.
Whilst you might be looking forward to getting back into the office and establishing a routine, you might also be anxious about what to expect. The business could have changed since you went on maternity leave, which can make you feel even more uneasy.
Having a supportive employer is key when you’re returning to the workplace as it’s their responsibility to make this process as stress free as possible.
It’s also essential to be aware of your rights and what to expect from your employer, including clear communication about any necessary accommodations and a flexible and understanding approach to your schedule.
Emotional support is equally important as it contributes significantly to your overall well-being during this period.
In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the process and help you understand what you can reasonably expect from your employer as you resume your professional life post-maternity leave.
Your Right to Return to Work After Maternity Leave
Your right to return to work depends on how much maternity leave you have taken. This also changes depending on where you are based, so we’ve provided a summary of compulsory maternity leave policies for different regions.
26 weeks or less
The first 26 weeks of maternity leave are called ‘ordinary maternity leave’ under the law. You have the right to return to the same job after ordinary maternity leave
26 weeks or more
Maternity leave that extends beyond 26 weeks is called “additional maternity leave.” If you choose to take additional maternity leave, your entitlement to return to your previous position under the same terms is protected.
However, in cases where returning to the exact role is not feasible due to substantial organisational changes, you may be offered a similar job.
The US does not have a federal law mandating paid maternity leave. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons, including the birth of a newborn child.
Under FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to take unpaid leave for the birth and care of a newborn child, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition, or for the employee’s own health condition.
While FMLA provides job protection during the leave, it does not require employers to provide paid leave.
Paid maternity leave, if available, is typically provided through an employer’s policy or as part of a state’s regulations. Some states have implemented their own paid family leave programs, which may include maternity leave.
It’s essential to check with your employer and refer to state-specific regulations for the most accurate and up-to-date information on maternity leave policies in the United States.
Maternity allowance is paid for six weeks before the birth and eight weeks after (12 weeks for premature and multiple births as well as in cases where a doctor declares the child to be disabled within eight weeks of childbirth and the woman applies for a longer term of protection) and for the day of childbirth.
In the case of a premature birth, post-natal coverage is extended by the number of days earlier than the due date that the child was born.
Under Hong Kong Law a pregnant woman is entitled to maternity benefits from her employer, provided she is employed under a “continuous contract”.
That requires employment of over 18 hours per week, for four or more consecutive weeks. The maternity benefits include:
Maternity leave of:
- 14 weeks leave to be taken continuously
- An additional time equivalent to any period of time between the expected date of birth and the actual due date where delivery occurs after the expected due date; and
- Up to 4 weeks additional leave in the event of illness or disability related to the birth or pregnancy. This is in addition to the entitlement to sick leave.
As a working mother, you will be entitled to either 16 weeks of Government-Paid Maternity Leave or 12 weeks of maternity leave, depending on whether your child is a Singapore citizen and other criteria.
You are eligible for 16 weeks of paid maternity leave if you meet the following requirements:
- Your child is a Singapore citizen.
- For employees: you have served your employer for a continuous period of at least 3 months before the birth of your child.
- For self-employed: you have been engaged in your work for at least 3 continuous months and have lost income during the maternity leave period.
- You have given your employer at least 1 week’s notice before going on maternity leave, and informed them as soon as possible of your delivery. Otherwise, you are only entitled to half the payment during maternity leave, unless you have a good enough reason for not giving the notice.
A female worker is entitled to a maternity leave of 60 days, out of which:
- 45 days will be fully-paid leave
- 15 days will be half-paid leave
A female worker may apply for her maternity leave up to 30 days prior to the expected date of delivery.
In addition to the basic maternity leave above, she may take additional 45 without pay, if she has an illness as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, and is unable to resume work. The illness must be proved via a medical certificate issued from the respective medical authority. These leave days can be consecutive or intermittent.
Female employees have a right to four months maternity leave when they are pregnant.
By law an employer is not obliged to give paid maternity leave, but women are entitled to four consecutive months of maternity leave.
The maternity leave may begin at any time from at least four weeks before the birth of the baby. The maternity leave may also be taken earlier if the woman’s medical condition does not allow her to work. Six weeks leave has to be taken after confinement.
A woman may join work earlier if a medical practitioner or midwife certifies that she is fit to return to work.
Considerations When Returning to Work After Maternity Leave
Below are some key points to consider when returning to work after maternity leave.
Legal Rights and Protections
Familiarising yourself with the legal rights and protections available to you as a new mother returning to work is crucial for a smooth transition.
You need to be aware of company-specific policies that safeguard against discrimination such as protection against unfair treatment, demotion, or dismissal based on your decision to take maternity leave.
Moreover, you need to explore policies that promote flexibility in work arrangements, accommodating the needs of new mothers. This might include options for flexible working hours, part-time schedules, or the ability to work remotely.
Understanding these rights ensures that your employer is meeting legal obligations to provide a supportive and inclusive working environment.
Additionally, be aware of any policies regarding parental leave, as these may offer extended time off or flexible options to help you balance work and family commitments.
Communicate with your employer
Before your return, speak to your employer about your transition back to work.
Start with your schedule. Clearly outline your preferred work hours, taking into consideration any adjustments needed for a more manageable return. Whether it’s negotiating flexible hours or discussing a phased return, expressing your scheduling preferences can help strike a balance between your professional and personal responsibilities.
Discussing your workload is equally important. Be honest about your capacity and any potential challenges. This allows your employer to make necessary adjustments, delegate tasks, and ensure that your return is manageable. I
You should also bring up any changes that might facilitate a smoother transition. This could involve modifications to your workspace, technology requirements, or specific accommodations that could improve your productivity and comfort. By addressing these hurdles, you and your employer can work together to create an environment that supports your needs.
In addition to the points above, ask your employer about any keep-in-touch (KIT) days. This gives you the chance to find out about any big updates with the company or your team in the middle of your maternity leave. These days can also provide clarity regarding your maternity cover if they need to check in with you.
Flexible work arrangements
Many employers recognise the needs of working mothers and often provide flexible work arrangements to improve work-life balance.
These arrangements might include the option for remote work or adjusted working hours, aiming to create a supportive environment for employees navigating the demands of both career and family.
Make sure you explore these flexible work options and talk to your employer about it. Remote working, for instance, can offer the flexibility to fulfill your job whilst still managing family commitments.
During this discussion, make it clear how these flexible arrangements will contribute to your overall well-being and productivity. Emphasise the potential positive impact on your work performance and your commitment to your responsibilities.
You should explore whether your employer provides childcare support as part of its commitment to fostering a family-friendly workplace.
Some companies go beyond standard benefits by offering on-site daycare facilities, ensuring that working parents have convenient and reliable childcare options.
These initiatives can significantly ease the burden of managing childcare responsibilities whilst you’re at work.
By taking advantage of available childcare support, you can enhance your work-life balance and enjoy being at work instead of feeling guilty and anxious.
PTO and leave policies
It’s important to understand your company’s paid time off (PTO) and leave policies, which play a key role in balancing work and personal life.
Familiarise yourself with the specifics of maternity leave, ensuring you are aware of the duration and any additional benefits.
Equally important is understanding the protocols for sick leave and annual leave, as you may need some extra time off when you first return to work.
Take the time to familiarise yourself with the procedures for requesting and using these benefits as it helps give you greater peace of mind.
Work with your employer to create a return-to-work plan.
This should outline:
- Return date: Clearly specify the date when you will officially return to work.
- Modified schedule: If you’ll be returning to work with a modified schedule, such as reduced hours or part-time initially.
- Job responsibilities: Provide a detailed list of your job responsibilities and tasks.
- Training and updates: If there have been significant changes in your role or the workplace during your absence, outline the training or updates you might require.
- Communication plan: Establish a communication plan with your employer. This may include regular check-ins, feedback sessions, or a point of contact for any questions.
- Support systems: Identify the support systems available to you, such as HR contacts or supervisors.
- Emotional well-being: Address your mental and emotional well-being as part of the plan.
- Continued communication: Establish a commitment to open and ongoing communication with your employer throughout the return-to-work process.
- Long-term career goals: Discuss your long-term career goals and how they align with your return to work.
Anticipate a transitional phase as you reintegrate into the workplace, as adapting to a new routine can take some time.
During this period, you need to be patient with yourself as you try to navigate professional and personal responsibilities. Expect that your productivity and energy levels might go up and down as you readjust to the demands of work.
Changes in your productivity is also normal and this helps you manage expectations, both for yourself and your employer. Knowing that it is ‘normal’ to feel this way should stop you from putting too much pressure on yourself as you’re not always going to feel this way.
Make sure you communicate with your employer about your progress and any challenges you may be facing, so that they can offer support when necessary.
Returning to work after maternity leave can be emotionally challenging, as you might be feeling a mix of excitement, apprehension, and potential feelings of guilt or anxiety.
To help with these emotions you might consider getting some emotional support, perhaps from colleagues who have experienced similar transitions.
They will understand the difficulty of balancing work and family and will be able to relate to what you’re going through. There might also be support groups for working parents that can offer a sense of community.
Building a network of emotional support not only helps you manage these emotional challenges, but also reinforces the understanding that you are not alone.
Continue to set and pursue your career goals as your return to work after maternity leave should not hinder your professional growth.
Communicate your career aspirations with your employer so that they understand your goals and aspirations and how you see yourself progressing moving forward.
Discuss potential opportunities for skill development, training programs, or mentorship that can contribute to your career advancement.
By maintaining a proactive approach to your professional development, you not only demonstrate your commitment to growth but also contribute to a workplace culture that supports the progression of its employees.
Review the company culture
Take time to review your company’s culture, paying particular attention to its stance on work-life balance and the support it provides for working parents.
Assessing the company’s values and policies in these areas can provide insights into how well it accommodates the needs of employees returning to work, especially new mothers.
An understanding work environment that prioritises work-life balance can contribute to making your return to work more manageable.
Look into the initiatives mentioned above such as flexible working arrangements, parental leave policies, and a supportive network that fosters a sense of community among working parents.
Understanding What Happens If You Don’t Return to Your Job
If you decide not to return to work, your contractual agreement will specify the notice period you must provide to your employer.
In cases where your contract does not outline a notice period, you are typically required to give a minimum of one week’s notice.
Check if you need to pay back any maternity pay
If you get contractual maternity pay you might only keep your full amount if you return to work.
You won’t need to pay back statutory maternity pay or Maternity Allowance, even if you don’t return to work.
You can check what type of maternity pay you’re entitled to if you’re not sure.
If you get contractual maternity pay
To maintain your full contractual maternity pay, you can refer to your employment contract or employee handbook for the duration you are required to spend working after returning from maternity leave.
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: What to Expect from Your Employer
Returning to work after maternity leave can be a stressful time as you’ll be feeling a mix of emotions.
Whether you’ve taken standard or enhanced maternity leave, being out of work for a prolonged period of time can make your return feel daunting and overwhelming.
To help make this process as easy as possible, it’s important to know your workplace rights. These policies give you protection and peace of mind, so that you can ease back into a working environment, managing both your personal and professional commitments.
This information is also key for women who are planning a pregnancy as you want to feel confident that your current employer can support your needs. The last thing you want to be worrying about is work, so knowing what to expect if/ when you take maternity leave helps you make informed decisions about your career and family planning.
At Macdonald & Company, we support professionals throughout their career, ensuring they find the right role that fulfills their criteria. This relates to both personal and professional commitments, as a satisfying career goes hand-in-hand with a balanced and fulfilling life. Our commitment extends beyond just matching qualifications with job requirements; we understand the unique aspirations, values, and goals of each professional we work with. To find out more, get in touch.