The Payroll Blog

News, tips, and advice for small business owners

How to Handle a Maternity Leave

Posted On
Chris Bibey

What steps will you take if an employee announces her pregnancy?

A pregnant woman sitting at a desk in an office.

Will you let this person take as much time off as they want? Will you have concerns about who will pick up the slack while she’s gone?

As a small business owner, it’s critical to have a “maternity leave” policy in place. Including this in your employee handbook will provide a clear picture of your policy, as well as the impact on your workforce.

However, there’s something you need to remember: you’re not calling all the shots in regards to maternity leave. There are various maternity leave laws in place that require you to provide a certain level of benefits to any woman who is having a baby.

Before we get into the laws that may pertain to your business, here are three steps that will allow you to manage an employee's maternity leave more effectively:

Create a Policy

With a standard policy outlined in your employee handbook, there are no questions as to what will happen during maternity leave. The company itself, as well as the employee, will know what to expect during this time. Since there are regulations you will be expected to file (more on that later) this policy may state when the employee needs to give you notice or when how they should plan on wrapping up their workload before their leave.

Plan in Advance

Work closely with your employee, as far in advance as possible, to determine how her workload will be covered. You can’t afford for this person’s work to be overlooked during her absence. Depending on the workload, and the layout of your small business, you may need to hire a temporary employee to cover the work. It’s also very helpful for your expecting employee to sit down with the person that will be responsible for covering their work while out on leave. There may be certain things this employee does that nobody else can without passwords or step-by-step instructions, so going over that information early can be helpful.

Don’t Make it Difficult

You have a maternity leave policy in place for a reason: to make this time as stress-free as possible on both the company and employee.

As challenging as it may be, don’t overlook the fact that your employee is doing her best to find a new balance in her life and remaining flexible before and after the baby will improve the chance of everything working out in the long run.

With all that in mind, here are three federal laws about maternity leave:

Remember, there are state laws to contend with as well. For example, New York has its own Paid Family Leave policy. It’s designed to provide up to 10 weeks (for 2019) of Paid Family Leave within 12 months of a child's birth.

As an employer, you’re required to follow both federal and state laws. These are not up for discussion.

While handling maternity leave sounds complicated, an understanding of the law, combined with a plan, will allow the time to go by without any major issues.

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