6 things to ask for before returning to work

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back to work

back to workWhen you return to work there are key things you need to have agreed on, including your transition back and your new working conditions. Here’s what you need to ask for.

1. Childcare

Ask how your employer helps with childcare costs. There are several options, some tricky to understand!

Some employers will pay cash for your childcare, others pay the childcare fees directly, others offer childcare support by providing childcare/nurseries or childcare vouchers.

Childcare vouchers are one way in which your employer can help if you work and pay for childcare.

Salary sacrifice is where you buy childcare vouchers from your income. The bonus here is that this comes out of your pre-taxed income, leaving you with more to take home. The negative is that because you pay them free of tax, your resultant salary is what is used to evaluate your future maternity pay and pension, which is a smaller figure.

Salary Plus (or Childcare Plus) is offered less often but is generally the better option financially. It means you receive part of your salary tax-free as payment for childcare.

If your employer doesn’t currently offer any package, have a chat with them: it’s of very little cost to your employer and means they get you back. Replacing you is far more expensive!

All childcare providers need to be registered (most are) to be applicable for the vouchers. If you’re still confused, the government website has a calculator to help you decide which leaves you better off.

2. Training

You may well need training to get back up to speed, or catch up on training and changes that you’ve missed while you were off.

A good deal of this depends on how long you’ve been off and how things have progressed at work. Talk to your employer, and where possible attend existing courses with colleagues before your maternity leave ends.

3. Role changes

If you’re returning after your Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) or Statutory Maternity Leave (SML) – i.e. the first 26 weeks – you’re entitled to the same job under the same terms as when you left.

However if you take any of the second 26 weeks – your Additional Maternity Leave (AML) – the rules are different. If it’s not reasonably practicable for your employer to let you return to your old job, they have to offer you something that’s appropriate and not on worse terms than before.

If you’re having problems, BusinessLink’s website may help you work out where you stand.

4. Flexible working

To be eligible to request flexible working, you need to meet certain criteria.

You must have worked for your employer as an employee (not an agency worker or in the armed forces) for 26 weeks’ continuously before applying. You also can’t have made another application under this right during the past 12 months.

Most employers now realise it’s a good idea to provide options. Decide what would work best before talking to your employer:

  • Flexitime: Choose when to work (usually with a core period when you have to work).
  • Annualised hours: Work an agreed number of hours over a year. E.g. some parents work in term-time only, though this isn’t easy with pre-school children!
  • Compressed hours: Work agreed hours over fewer days.
  • Staggered hours:  Different starting/break/finishing times to your colleagues.
  • Job sharing: Fulltime role split between two employees.
  • Home working:  Do the job from home.
  • Part-time – Working less than the normal hours, e.g. fewer or shorter days.

5. Keeping In Touch days

It can be really handy for you and your employer to keep in touch while you’re off. Your employer is also entitled to make reasonable contact with you during Statutory Maternity Leave, and means you’re kept in the loop with any changes or vacancies.

You can work up to 10 ten days during your Statutory Maternity Leave without losing your Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance or ending your leave. These are called keeping in touch days – and are something you both need to agree on first. You can’t work during compulsory maternity leave (the two weeks immediately after your baby is born).

Keeping In Touch days can be for training or events, or just your usual work. Make sure you agree with your employer first what work you need to do and what you’ll get paid.

6. Breast milk facilities

If you want to breastfeed after you go back, tell your employer in writing – and ideally before you go back!

They have to do a risk assessment, removing any risks and providing rest facilities.

They’re not obliged to provide a safe environment to express or store milk, although many do. It’s not unusual for there to be a fridge available for everyone’s use already – just mind you label yours!