For most women, pregnancy is hugely exciting, but of course, it does come with common worries too. Aside from the obvious concerns about your own health and that of your unborn child, many women will have no idea how to approach the subject with their employer, and this can exacerbate stress levels at an already complicated time.
Companies can ease the worry for their pregnant employees by offering support before, during, and after maternity leave.
Fulfil all legal requirements
Double-check what the laws are for where your particular business is based, and make sure you’re fulfilling your legal obligations as an employer, with regard to maternity leave, pay, and time off for doctors’ appointments etc.
Laws can change regularly, so make sure you’re up to date on anything that may affect your business.
Check your benefits documentation
HR departments should have clear and concise information available to their employees regarding the maternity package offered by their business. For a variety of reasons, many women don’t feel comfortable revealing their pregnancy to their employer until later on in the process, so make sure this information is easy to access so they can get peace of mind during those early weeks.
Ensure there is contact information readily available for any questions or concerns that the pregnant employee may have, and be prepared to answer a range of queries and provide support.
Set up a communication and support network
Beyond the legal and contractual obligations, if you’re able to offer further support to your pregnant employees, they’ll certainly appreciate it. Some businesses are able to offer support in the form of parent support groups, either online or in person, or private rooms for nursing mothers returning to work.
Going on maternity leave can feel lonely, and employees can feel disconnected from what’s going on at work. It’s important to stay in contact during this time, particularly in regards to any business changes, which may affect their role on their return to work. It’s advisable to plan ahead with the employee what sort of things they’d like to be kept informed about whilst on maternity leave, as they mustn’t be treated less favourably than other employees.
Some new mothers will want to take a step back during this time, but others may still be keen to know about any promotion opportunities, training courses, or social events which may occur whilst they’re out of the workplace.
Make the return to work easy
New parents may suddenly encounter a whole range of obstacles to returning to work in their usual way, so it’s important to make this time as easy as possible for them. Many new parents would benefit from flexible working arrangements, or remote working if possible. Childcare options are often also a driving factor in a new parent’s schedule, so it’s great to look into whether you’re able to re-organise their work schedule to take this into consideration.
In some cases, you may need to conduct a risk assessment to determine whether a pregnant employee or new mother is able to continue to carry out their normal duties without extra risk to their health and to provide alternative work if this is the case.
Have a plan in place to support those who have been through trauma
Employees who have been through a traumatic labour, miscarriage or birth injury may need additional support, and managing this carefully is important for their physical and mental health.
“If a parent or their child has suffered as a result of sub-standard medical care in pregnancy or in labour, it can have a devastating impact on the quality of life for both,” says Flor McCarthy, Partner at McCarthy and Co Solicitors, “so, if there is a grievance with the doctors or midwives handling the child’s birth, a parent may be eligible to instigate a birth injury compensation claim.”
In the case of a new parent taking this kind of legal action, it’s the responsibility of the business to recognize the severity of the situation and provide as much support as possible. This may include additional time off to attend medical appointments, therapy sessions, or meetings with lawyers.
Pregnancy can be daunting, particularly for first-time parents, or mothers experiencing any kind of complications, but employers can help ease the load considerably by offering a high level of support to these employees. Support can take a range of different forms, but it’s important to look after both the emotional and physical wellbeing of mothers.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this, and the best way to do it is to open clear lines of communication with the expectant mother about how they would like to be treated during this time, and reassurances that you are there to help in any way you can.
Gemma Hart is an independent HR professional working remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Since graduating in 2013, Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles but now looks to grown her personal brand and connect with leading professionals in the field.