Maternity Leave is Not Paid Leisure Time!

Maternity Leave is Not Paid Leisure Time!

When women take maternity leave employers are allowed a minimal amount of contact during the period of absence. This is known as KIT – Keeping In Touch. The aim of it is to ensure the employee knows what is happening at work, to avoid her feeling alienated and to facilitate their return to work when the leave comes to an end.

Women are only required by law to take two weeks’ compulsory maternity leave to give birth. This is on health and safety grounds. New mothers can choose to extend this leave by up to six months and even further if they wish, up to one year. There can be no doubt that welcoming a new family member and the tireless drudgery of sleepless nights can hardly be construed as leisure time despite the delight of the baby’s arrival. 

Recent news of a case in the US where a maternity leaver did not return to work but chose instead to leave the firm when her maternity leave ended says quite a lot about the attitude of some colleagues to maternity rights. Granted it can, especially in smaller companies, be something of an inconvenience for an employee to be absent for such a long period but suck it up: this is what the law permits. Most women pay a penalty of sorts in their career prospects anyway without needing to be punished further. It’s hard to understand the animosity this leave can arouse in co-workers.

One such irritated person was a male lawyer at a US law firm who sent a text to a colleague who decided not to return from maternity leave. It read:

What you did — collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job — says everything one needs to know about your character. Karma’s a bitch. Rest assured, regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.

Karma was indeed a bitch. The lawyer was sacked despite his apology to his former colleague. Is it any wonder this new mother decided she did not want to return to such a toxic environment? One cannot help wondering if the prevailing attitude to mothers in that workplace had anything to do with it.

Despite good legal protections, pregnancy and maternity discrimination are rife across all sectors and industries. Advice for mothers from organisations such as Maternity Action is invaluable. 

Good news then for women that the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on 3 March 2023. The bill proposes stronger redundancy protections for pregnant women and maternity leave returners.