Maternity Leave No matter how long an employee has been in a job, they're entitled to shared parental leave following the birth of their child. Statistics show that August and September are the peak times for babies being born, so it's quite possible you're now thinking about how to provide cover for a mother or father-to-be. Whilst we recognise that fathers are entitled to paid leave too, it’s far more common practice for the mother to take the bulk of the leave. So, for the purposes of this article, we’ll work with the assumption that it is the expectant mother who is taking time off. Maternity leave cover need not be a problem for you, as long as you plan ahead.

Ok, so first of all you need to be familiar with your organisation's maternity leave policy and also the protection in law offered to the new mother. More information on the legislation and how to implement it can be found here - it's advisable to also have a calendar handy and know your biology (in the UK, pregnancies are considered to last 40 weeks) so you can work out these key dates!

Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks – meaning that their job must be available for them if they take up to 26 week’s leave. They are entitled to return to their job or a similar position (if it’s not possible to give them their old job) if they take more leave up to 52 weeks. However, they are only entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if they are:

• on your payroll in the ‘qualifying week’ - the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth,
• have worked for you continuously for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the qualifying week,
• and earn at least £113 a week (gross) in an 8-week ‘relevant period’.

There are key dates around the official notice that they need to give you. So at least 15 weeks before the due date (that’s around week 25 or month 6 of the pregnancy) they must confirm the due date and when they want their maternity leave to start. After this you must confirm the start and end dates (i.e. +1 year) of the maternity leave in writing. However, the leave date can be altered by the mother with 28 day’s notice and their return to work date can be altered by providing 8 week's notice.

So, in practical terms, even if she changes the start of her maternity leave, you should have 28 day’s notice of this, and when it comes to her returning to work, you'll have 2 month’s notice. These are useful notice periods when thinking about providing cover for her work.

Official requirements aside, it's possible that your employee has spoken with you informally about her plans and is keen to make arrangements for maternity cover whilst she is off for her own peace of mind. This needs to be handled sensitively and professionally. On the one hand, you want to provide reassurance that the work will be dealt with in her absence, but on the other hand, you don't want to appear to be getting rid of her and replacing her for good!

The soonest she can head off on maternity leave is 11 weeks before the due date, but generally speaking the trend is for mothers with straightforward pregnancies to save as much of maternity leave as possible until after the baby is born and therefore start their maternity leave as late as possible. Many also couple this with taking holiday (which continues to accrue whilst on maternity leave) before their maternity leave itself starts, so let's assume for the purpose of this article that they are going to be off 4 weeks before the due date. Depending on the nature of their role, you probably want a handover of 2- 4 weeks. So, this would give you a start date of around 2 months before their due date, which means realistically you'll need to start looking for someone 3 months before due date.

So, what sort of maternity cover are you going to provide? This of course depends on the nature and level of the role which she is currently fulfilling. It might be possible to redistribute her current workload among colleagues without need for an additional hire. But if she is off for 6-9 months, or even up to a year, that’s a long time to expect people to shoulder additional workload comfortably and maintain quality. For client facing and/or senior level posts it may be more appropriate to have a current employee "acting up" in the role during the maternity cover and then resource an additional interim hire to backfill their role for the maternity period. This has the big advantage that the direct replacement will be more informed about the company, role, clients and responsibilities, but might pose a problem when the mother returns to work. Will that internal cover be happy to revert to their old role and possibly old salary?

A final option is to look for external assistance in the form of an Interim – the "who" and "how" of which are explored below.

So, you've decided you need an additional interim hire, who ya gonna call? Your immediate network is a good place to start (probably a good 6 months before the due date) and might include former employees and colleagues from previous employers as interim working has become more common place. Networking tools such as Linkedin make this easier nowadays but you're still needing a lot of factors to come together at once – availability, skill set, team fit and salary expectations.

Another option is to advertise directly – your HR recruiting team can advise on this if you have one, but even for smaller outfits this has become easier as online job boards will take one off job posts nowadays. There may also be relevant CV talent pools you can access for an additional fee. Be clear what it is that you are advertising, as a maternity leave position needs to be advertised with the expected time period and should not be confused with being a permanent role (unless you are genuinely offering a permanent role, with them covering maternity leave just for the first period of time). If you don't have an HR or recruiting team to support you however, don't underestimate the amount of your time it will take to run advertisements or search job boards to generate your shortlist of suitable candidates.

A popular solution is of course to approach recruitment agencies. They will often have a dedicated Interim team who know their market intimately, regularly placing candidates for maternity and other time limited roles. Or, it might be that consultants recruit on both a temporary and permanent basis if they are specialists in their market. They maintain a pool of candidates, fully vetted for Interim contracts and, most importantly for you, know their availability. So contacting a sector specialist will give you a good idea as to whether there is likely to be a candidate available for your interim assignment, and if not, what the alternative might be. It will also save an enormous amount of time at the beginning of the process as they will be able to present you with a shortlist of candidates to interview, without the need or cost for you to advertise. Most agencies work on a contingency basis for Interim assignments, so you would only pay a fee on successful placement.

The most straightforward is to offer a fixed term contract (FTC), which is essentially the same as a permanent contract, just limited by time, which is stated in the contract. Be sure that your notice clauses are as robust as possible, in case you want to terminate the contract early so you are not liable for payment until the end of the original contract. Remember, following Agency Worker Regulations (AWR) legislation of 2011 you need to offer temporary employees the same rights as permanent ones after 12 weeks in the role, which includes holiday allowance (including Bank Holidays), sick pay, car allowance, bonus schemes etc.

They should also have the same right to access facilities as your permanent staff, such as a canteen, car parking, corporate away days and so on. When recruited this way, your Interim is regarded as an employee of your organisation and should be treated as such. If you have secured the candidate through an agency, then the fee will be a one-off fee at the outset for the time period, and usually based on a pro-rata of the equivalent permanent fee (if the contract is less than one year, but then extended, it is usual for a further fee to be charged on the extension).

Recruiting a candidate this way does add to headcount, and it may be that your headcount is already at its cap. In this instance, the recruiting agency can set the candidate up on their payroll, and run the assignment through a weekly timesheet system. This way, you will get weekly or monthly invoices from the agency which covers the pay to the candidate, any holiday pay entitlement, employer's national insurance, Apprenticeship Levy and any pension costs, as well as the agency's fee. Whilst it is the agency paying the candidate, you are still obliged to treat them as an employee under AWR rules, so make sure that they have access to facilities as outlined above.

Alternatively, there are some candidates who work on a "professional" interim basis and have set up a limited company in order to best facilitate this. This tends to be for more senior individuals where they have worked on an Interim basis for many years, and intend take on further assignments after your assignment. Candidates with this set up would rather "contract" with you or an agency than be "employed" by them, and in this instance, they would invoice the agency (or you) weekly or monthly for their services. The rate that you agree with them will be an all-inclusive rate, so there is no further holiday pay, apprenticeship levy, national insurance or pension costs to consider. Usually AWR does not apply in these circumstances as it would undermine their limited company status. If recruited through an agency, then the invoices would come from them rather than the contractor, and include the agency recruiting fee as well.

A note on notice periods
Whichever way you recruit for your Interim, don't forget that they are subject to a notice period during the assignment, and be sure to give them due notice as the mother returns to work. Remember, she should give you at least 8 week's notice of her return to work anyhow, and you'll probably want to allow 2-4 weeks of a "hand back" to her so these timescales should be very workable.

Typically, hourly or daily rate candidates, whether PAYE or limited company are on a week's notice but you may want to extend this to a month for your own security, as remember they are not obliged to stay for the whole maternity cover. If you want even further reassurance, perhaps consider a "completion bonus" to be paid at the end of the assignment, but forfeited if the Interim leaves early.

Getting your approach to maternity cover right will give everyone in your department, organisation and client base reassurance that any disruption will be minimal. Understanding the timeframes which apply, the different methods of running a contract and the types of individual available in your market are all key. Getting all this right will ensure a smooth maternity period for you and the new mother, leaving her to focus on the most important part of all this – the new baby!

Which reminds us, there is one final task which might fall in your lap – organising a gift for the new-born. There are so many baby gifts on the market that you could be spoilt for choice, but one we particularly like is The Baby Box Company.

Is your team currently looking to recruit for maternity cover? Speak to one of our consultants at Cobalt today by calling us on 020 7478 2500.

Article written by Sara Burton, Global Operations Director – Cobalt Recruitment.

The tips provided in this article do not constitute formal HR or legal advice and you should speak with an HR professional if you have further questions or are in doubt.

Information accurate as of July 2017.

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