Most employers are aware of their basic legal duties under Employment Standards and human rights legislation when it comes to pregnant employees and maternity or parental leave. (For those of you who could use a quick refresher, visit our blog here.)
If you limit yourself to the “basics”, however, you miss out on an opportunity to increase employee engagement and retention. By taking a broader, sustainable employment approach to employee pregnancy and mat leave, you engender employee trust and loyalty, position yourself as an industry leader, and improve your chances of attracting talent (particularly millennials).
Maternity Leave Best Practices
Here, we offer some suggestions for a progressive approach to maternity leave that is based on sustainable employment principles such as transparency, respect, fairness and collaboration:
- When an employee discloses that she is pregnant, be positive and reassuring.
- Have an open, collaborative discussion with her about both of your plans and expectations during her absence and when she returns.
- While the employee is pregnant, respect and accommodate any health issues that may arise, for example by providing time off to attend medical appointments if needed.
- Hire a replacement for while the employee is away, rather than redistributing her responsibilities among her co-workers. This sends the message (to everyone) that the employee is a valued and necessary member of the team and reassures her colleagues that the business supports employee pregnancy and mat leave. It can also prevent remaining employees from developing resentment towards the absent employee.
- During her leave, communicate with the employee openly and promptly about any changes you have made (for legitimate business reasons) to her position or your operations generally. Take the same approach when it comes to internal job opportunities that arise while she is on leave, and encourage her to apply if appropriate.
- While this should go without saying, return the employee to her previous position when the leave ends. (Read our blog post here to learn how the courts view employers who change or eliminate an employee’s job while she is on leave.)
- When the employee returns, offer flexible work arrangements wherever possible that recognize and accommodate the employee’s family’s needs.
- Remember that the employee’s seniority and years of service with the business continue to accrue while she is on leave. When it comes time for a raise or promotion, evaluate the employee as if she had not been absent during the leave period.