So you’re pregnant, but you love your career, do you have to choose between your family and your success? In short, you shouldn't have to and the law is there to protect you , but what's the reality ? There are so many protections and options for mums that there is no reason why you can’t be super mum and super successful but will the city let you?
Remember, when announcing you are pregnant, you cannot be dismissed for this or for the amount of maternity leave you chose to take. This would be an unfair dismissal and employers cannot do this without risk of Tribunal action.
Unfair dismissal is exactly what it says, it is where an employee is dismissed for an unfair reason. To be able to claim this, you must have been within that employment for at least 2 years, unless the dismissal reason is for pregnancy or maternity and then it is automatically unfair as its discrimination . Make sure you document anything said , copy letters , listen out to how other staff are being treated because if you feel treated less favourably after announcing pregnancy you need to monitor this and if you can evidence then a grievance is important .
You must take at least 2 weeks maternity leave following the birth of your baby but you are legally entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. The first 39 weeks’ is paid if you are an eligible employee. But, check your employment contract because you may be entitled to more.
Returning back to work
So next you’re returning to work after your maternity period. Some of you may be nervous and some of you may be relieved to have some adult conversation and the opportunity to exercise your brain again. How you may be feeling will often depend on your employer and the job you do. Other factors that may influence you are:
- Inflexible hours
- The commute from hell
- Male dominated
- Not being able to socialise as much due to family commitments
- Full time may be the only option with your job
Not all jobs are like that and not all employers are inflexible but here is what to you do if the above applies to you.
The legal options
- You can apply for flexible working hours and make a solid case for you staying on with these terms. An employer must by law consider reasonable requests seriously but also has the complete discretion to deny your request.
- You can apply for part time working.This could mean a career break and a drop in salary and you still need to make the case to your employer that they should grant this, once again they have the power to reject this.
- Can you job share?Ask them to hire another part time you and between the two of you its shared salary and hours. Employers can welcome the idea of two dedicated people who are motivated because they are working less time, however they may feel it’s too difficult but it's worth a shot asking.
If none of these proposals work can you move careers and locate a better-suited role? Many mums are scared that potential employers will be anxious about taking on a new mum. You do not have to declare maternity or new parentage on your CV or at an interview but if you do the employer cannot by law discriminate against you as a result. However, in practice they can make positive sounds and refuse the job stating there was a better applicant so the law whilst a deterrent, is not fool proof.
As such plan your return or departure carefully or prepare a convincing proposal for varying your terms. I have seen the major benefits of a happy work force with flexible arrangements around not just a family life but generally a work /life balance. Treating your staff fairly often means they are happy, committed and your clients and customers feel this . You look after them they respect you and work harder especially women with children they prove themselves and some flexibility means commitment for life . My staff have job shared; worked part time or from home; they get extended holiday periods; flexible hours and the right to a life. I know I enjoy working in an office with a welcoming atmosphere and I know my clients feel the benefits of motivated service providers. Challenge your employer but make the proposal solid and prove yourself it could be magical.
Decided not to return
You might want to consider starting your own business, at home, franchising, or working as a consultant or start up your own operational business. That way you have no boss, no set hours and flexible arrangements all the way. It's not without its own stress though, but for me it was the best solution.
Set up your own business
The most important thing is to fully understand what you’re about to do - research and ask advisors. Most businesses will fail due to lack of preparation and understanding. There are many advisors who will give free advice to start ups or government backed ones that are already paid for.
All businesses need cash flow - so you will need an initial investment, a bank loan is great but how are you going to fund your first year and generate income?
Have you got a plan if things go wrong? Do you know how and if you can exit the business if it doesn't work? Make sure that if possible you have the appropriate insurance policies in place.
You will need tax advice beforehand because a good accountant will immediately start saving you money, helping you to realistically budget, and often give you the essential tools to carefully book keep.
Legal documents are key in many businesses be it terms with clients, partnership agreements if joining with someone or investment agreements if taking on investment monies. Friends and family may help but always consider that all arrangement should be in writing to cover all parties if it goes wrong, if you fall out or a third party enters the scene.
If you are looking to employ someone you can make them initially self employed or an employee. Self employed staff are liable for their own tax, are not entitled to the same benefits such as holiday pay or pension rights and you can let them go with notice and with little recourse, if you later don't need their services. You can also set commission only fees so they have to generate an income for you before they get paid. This arrangement can always help if you need to have a trial period or if cash flow is tight when starting out.
That said, employees can develop with you and the business and can become an integral part to help you grow. Investing in the right people can make a huge difference. They do however have protective rights, so make sure you understand these commitments - holiday and sickness pay, pension contributions, statutory and contractual notice periods and rights. Make sure you provide a detailed contract to ensure you are both clear on terms going forward.
What else should you be thinking about?
Have you updated your Will as to who will look after your child should something go wrong?
Have you got life insurance or insurance if find yourself out of work?
Have you looked at whether your partner can share your maternity leave or benefit from parental leave?
Have you claimed your child credit allowance if applicable?
Can you apply for child vouchers for the nursery to save your tax?
Business Mum’s advice setting up
As a business mum I have been through it all good and bad but at the end of the day having a career and a wonderful family was worth the challenges.
Increasingly my team and I are advising more and more mums not returning to work and setting up on their own (and dads too). I believe the reason small businesses are popping up all around is because people want more job satisfaction and flexibility - which is sometimes hard to achieve if you work for a large company.
If I was going to advise anyone on how to balance family life with business I would say there are three golden rules:
- Surround yourself with good people both in business and in your private life so you can discuss, trust and confide in them. Having a good accountant and lawyer means you can take practical and professional advice to help your business succeed. Also having a parent, sibling, spouse or friend to moan at , challenge your ideas and tell you you’re not a bad parent for working late makes life possible;
- Always make time for the family whether it is putting the children to bed, taking a day off in the month to go someplace special , a date night once a week – where your mobile phone is turned off. Otherwise work overtakes life and before you know it your children have grown up and your partner has lost sight of why they were with you;
- Make time for fun away from work and the family otherwise you will no longer recognise yourself . I am a business owner, mum, wife , employer , but occasionally I need time to be a women who shops, enjoys a glass of wine or a gossip with my girl friends;
- Be good to others in your team.Always remember how you felt as a mum/dad (before you set up your own company). As an employer I allow mothers to work from home, job share and fathers to share maternity leave. I generally give all my staff longer holiday periods and flexible time. A happy work team means a happy environment to work in and therefore happy clients and customers;
- Set yourself reasonable and achievable goals to focus your drive, but also to allow you time out when you need it. Burning yourself out is something I have witnessed many business owners and especially parents do and as a result your business becomes like a job that your stuck in and you don't enjoy. If you don't enjoy your business and feel that you have not hit your targets , its not only hard to thrive, but your family life will feel the stress and pressure and it can eat into that too.
If you need legal help and advice setting up your business visit www.acitylawfirm.com
ACLF also run regular "Start Up Capsule" networking events and seminars for owners seeking to meet like-minded professionals and experts.