A small business survival guide to maternity leave

UKIP MP Godfrey Bloom recently hit headlines with a controversial comment about how no small business should hire women of childbearing age. His comments stem from the popular assumption that maternity leave can cripple small businesses.

While Bloom’s comments should not be taken seriously, there’s no doubt that maternity leave can cause problems for small businesses. Losing a valued member of staff for up to a year (and sometimes permanently) can be costly, not only do you lose someone’s expertise and skills, but you also have invest in training up a new member of staff to provide cover while they’re away.

But small businesses are renowned for being agile and resistant to adversity. Maternity leave, while currently problematic for both parties, is not an issue that is going to go away. Small businesses must think creatively and understand that there are ways to overcome the inconveniences of maternity leave. Here are just some of the ways that small businesses can survive:
Arranging cover
Possibly the most obvious issue for small businesses is the problem of hiring a replacement. If you have a strong team with good rapport, there may an opportunity to arrange for a current staff members to shadow the employee for a few weeks before they leave to enable them to take on a share of the duties.

However, this may not be a solution for all businesses. If you find yourself with a team that is too stretched, you can always look to hiring another member of staff to act as a replacement by advertising for a temporary role.  You can hire everyone from a temporary administrator to an interim finance director in order to help cover the costs of maternity.
Pay
The second thing on any employers mind is likely to be cost. How should a small business weather the financial burden bought on by a staff member going on to maternity leave?

Many SMEs don’t realise that they can claim back some or even all of the maternity pay while their staff member is on leave and if they have insufficient funds to cover the cost in advance, they can even receive support from HMRC.
Productivity
Employers can be anxious that if their employees return after maternity leave, they will not be as productive as they were beforehand, but in fact the opposite can be true. Providing employers have been fair and understanding during maternity leave, new mothers will often be keen to prove that having a baby doesn’t hinder their ability to get their job done.
Communication
Employers should endeavor to keep communication channels open during maternity leave. It can be all too easy to forget to put in the effort if they do not see the missing member of staff on a daily basis. But a good employer will see this opportunity to be open and honest with their employee. By simply keeping in touch and being transparent with their employee, they will often be the first to learn whether their employee intends to return and can therefore make the necessary arrangements. This also results in increased staff loyalty and productivity upon the employees return.
Flexibility
It is highly likely that once the new baby arrives, employees might request flexible working hours. Employers should be open-minded about this and look to develop a working schedule that benefits both parties. However, sometimes it isn’t feasible so employers should be prepared to give a good and solid reason why the request has been denied, for example there is not enough work available during the requested hours.

The issue of maternity leave isn’t one that is going to go away and it shouldn’t. By excluding women of childbearing age, employers are missing out on a large section of the talent pool, However, Maternity leave does require small businesses to be creative, but if handled well, the increase in staff loyalty and productivity is well worth the initial outlay.