The rules around "keep in touch" days for staff on maternity leave

Keep in touch days

When staff are on maternity leave, keep in touch days can be a valuable way to stop them missing important events, explains David Wright. 

Keep in touch days were introduced over a decade ago, in April 2007, and are commonly known as KIT days. They’ve been popular with both employers and employees and are regularly used in salons but still often misunderstood.

Initially employees on maternity leave were able to work up to 10 KIT days, providing both the employer and employee agreed on them. The novel feature was that employees were paid but also continued to receive their maternity pay. Previously, maternity leave automatically ended when an employee returned to work for a single day.

It’s easy to see why KIT days were a positive move. For an employer they might provide:

• cover during peak periods or holidays

• attendance at training or important events

• a way of retaining staff – as we know, many don’t return after maternity leave.

• a way for the employee to retain key clients

• a means of maintaining a link or phasing back into work; for example, the employee could work two days a week as KIT days for the last five weeks of their maternity leave.

With the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in April 2015, the allowance increased to 20 “SPLIT” (shared parental in touch) days per parent. Previously it was just 10 days for the mother.

The small print

The employee can do any sort of work for the employer on a KIT day, including attending training, and should be paid a normal day’s pay, including commission if appropriate. However, even if you only work a few hours it still counts as a whole KIT day (so the employee couldn’t work 40 KIT half days).

KIT days can be taken from two weeks after the birth. They don’t have to be consecutive or even taken in the same month. Importantly, they aren’t compulsory for either party.

If the employer or employee doesn’t want them then they don’t happen. An employee doesn’t have to work all 10 of the KIT days (or 20 if it’s Shared Parental Leave).

I have been asked if turning down a request from an employee would constitute sex discrimination. My opinion is that it would not, and I’m not aware of any cases, successful or unsuccessful.

Maintaining contact

Employers also have concerns about keeping in touch with staff via phone or email when they are on maternity in case they feel they are being pressured to return. Legally, you can maintain reasonable contact. It’s a good idea to chat to the employee before they go on leave. If they say they want no verbal contact then you must respect that.

It might be that the employee wants to know if a vacancy or promotion opportunity arises, if a colleague is leaving, or if training is being booked. It could be you agree to call once a month for a general update.

Employers are often anxious to know whether the employee plans on returning to work. Legally, the employee can have up to 12 months’ maternity leave. If they wish to return earlier they’re required to give a minimum of eight weeks’ notice but there’s no obligation for them to make any sort of decision before that.

David Wright David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons.