Guest Article by Joseph L. Bolger, Managing Director at ESA Consultants
*Please note that the following information may differ from country to country. ESA Consultants is an Irish-based company.
A few months ago, Phorest Salon Software sat down and chatted to Louise Caithness, Founder and Director of Zest Skin Spa. The interview discussed her experience of the work-life dynamic when having children comes into the mix. Because of the nature of the salon and spa industry, a high percentage of staff members are likely to go through maternity at some stage. Hence, having a maternity leave policy in place in your business is crucial. The question is, where do you start?
According To The Law…
Maternity leave is governed by the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004. To set a good foundation for your maternity leave policy, it’s important that you ensure that:
- All employees are subject to performance reviews.
- If your staff’s performance is not up to standard, it is recorded, discussed one-to-one with the employee and a plan to get her back on track is set in place.
Example 1: Let’s say Samantha is in a probationary period and her performance continues to be poor. You warned Samantha that if you didn’t see an improvement by the end of her probation, you would terminate her employment. Her performance doesn’t improve and, come the end of her probation, you let her go. After she’s been fired, she tells you she’s pregnant.
- Say you have followed your salon’s procedure as written in your SOP Manual and have notes on your meetings with Samantha. If you can prove that her letting go was due to her poor performance and that this was communicated to her before you were told she was pregnant, you will have a good defence if it ever goes to the Workplace Relations Commission.
- If Samantha tells you she is pregnant after you’ve fired her, and you have no record of any meetings with her prior to that date, you will find it almost impossible to justify your actions – even if you did let her go due to her poor performance.
Legally speaking, if one of your staff members breaks the baby news to you, as a salon owner, you must:
- Assess the specific risks to that employee, and take action to ensure that she is not exposed to anything which will damage either her health or that of her developing child (also referred to as a pregnancy risk assessment).
- After the pregnancy risk assessment, sit down with your staff member and discuss the results with her (it may be necessary for the employee to review findings with her Doctor).
- If the results show a risk that can adversely affect the mother or unborn baby, establish if you can reduce this risk.
- Ensure the employee is not exposed to the identified risk.
- If you are unable to remove the risk and/or the employee from the risk, then consider placing the employee on early Health and Safety Leave.
- Pay the first 21 days of her leave. After that, the employee may be entitled to Health and Safety Benefit.
Like anything in life, where there are do’s, there are don’t’s. So, here’s what you should not do in the event of a staff member announcing her pregnancy:
- Do not dismiss an employee who informs you they are pregnant, only to then say she was not a good worker if you have not dealt with any issues before she’s broken the news to you.
- Do not change the employee’s terms and conditions of employment.
What Happens Before, During And After Maternity Leave?
Your staff must give no less than 4 weeks’ notice of their intent to take their maternity leave, which by law, lasts 26 weeks.
The employee is entitled to antenatal or postnatal care paid, or any related pregnancy appointment. However, by law, the employee must tell you in advance of any medical appointment (or provide evidence of the appointment) and must return to work after it. For antenatal classes, the employer must cover 3 of these classes (this applies to Father if they are employees). The dad must give two weeks’ notice in advance.
All holidays and Bank holidays during that period are covered by you, the salon owner. It’s also important to note that the employee may extend their maternity leave by a further 16 weeks. However, this requires another 4 weeks’ notice of such intent (all bank holidays and holidays are covered).
According to the Maternity Protection Act 1994-2004 Act, when an employee returns to work after their maternity leave, they must be given back the position they had before leaving (or a very similar position) and must be treated under the same terms and conditions they enjoyed prior to their pregnancy. Finally, after returning to work, an employee is entitled some paid time off to breastfeed (1 hour per day, 2×30 mins, or 3x 20 mins).
Final Words & Concerns
When all is said and done, you – the salon owner – are still protected. Under the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004, employees who fail to give notice of 4 weeks of their intent to return to work after the first maternity leave or the extended period may risk losing their employment.
Make sure you have a policy of your own in place, one that is written in your salon/spa’s procedure manual. Finally, don’t forget to make room for some flexibility when needed and where possible.
Thanks for reading,