Pregnant pauses

With the beauty industry workforce primarily made up of females; maternity leave is always topical in salons. David Wright explains the issues

Employees are entitled to maternity leave from their first day of employment. However they have to be employed for 26 weeks, and for 15 weeks before the expected week of birth, to receive statutory maternity pay from their employer. They also have to earn over £107 per week.

The maternity leave entitlement is up to 52 weeks. This is made up of 26 weeks’ Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave.

In the first six weeks of their Ordinary Maternity Leave the employee receives 90% of their normal weekly earnings. They then receive statutory maternity pay (SMP) for 33 weeks and finally they can have 13 weeks’ unpaid leave. SMP is currently £135.45. In almost all cases the salon can recover the SMP paid to staff.

If an employee isn’t eligible for SMP then they claim maternity allowance from the Government. Self-employed individuals can also be entitled to maternity allowance.

Safety check

When an employee tells you she is pregnant you are required to carry out a risk assessment. You should do this in consultation with the employee and repeat it throughout the pregnancy. Employees are also entitled to paid leave to attend all antenatal appointments.

An employee can now come in to work and receive their full rate of pay, and SMP, for up to 10 days while on maternity leave. These are called Keep In Touch days. Neither the employer nor employee can demand the right to the KIT days; they can only be used if both parties agree to them. However, they are often of mutual benefit. They could be used for training but equally could be spread into short chunks of time over the year to allow a therapist to retain key clients. The prospect of a full column with good commission opportunities might be very attractive.

Taking leave

Staff accrue holiday entitlement while on maternity and can claim payment for these holidays even if they don’t return to work. In some cases it makes sense to let employees take their leave in advance and effectively start their maternity leave earlier. This may be more mutually beneficial than the employee working when heavily pregnant or returning from maternity and having up to six weeks’ leave to take in a short period of time.

The most problematic area is staff wishing to return on a part-time basis. If they wish to return before the end of their maternity leave, or return on reduced hours, they are required to give at least eight weeks’ notice.

Employees have a legal right to request part-time or flexible working and there is a duty on employers to fully consider such a request.

Compromising situation

If you are unable to agree the request for a genuine business reason, you must meet the employee, explain the reason and provide a written explanation. Some salon owners have flatly refused requests because they simply “aren’t happy with part time working”. But this is dangerous and could lead to a claim at employment tribunal. Others welcome part timers. The salon retains the skills and part-time staff usually have less sickness,

However, there is a statutory process to follow when an employee requests more flexible hours, and legitimate business reasons employers can use to reject requests for part-time working. In my experience, too often there is a battle of wills rather than an open discussion to agree an outcome that benefits both salon and employee. Part-time staff can provide the flexibility you might need to provide cover for holidays or absences.