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Maternity Leave - Have you got the right KIT?

 August 22, 2013

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In addition to mastering buggies and bottle warmers, if you are a working mum you should also give some thought to how to use your KIT - Keeping In Touch days with your employer. 

Slater & Gordon commissioned a survey asking working mothers about their experiences and, despite all the legislation in place to prevent discrimination, the results were pretty depressing. Nearly half of women interviewed felt that having children halted their career progression. 

In an ideal world, working mothers should not have to face this sort of prejudice. Many new mums want to have a complete break from work during their maternity leave, and they are entirely within their rights to do so. It’s quite right that you are not obliged to do any work during this period, and you will still be protected against discrimination. But we are often approached by women who want to know what extra steps they can take to help them avoid being “put on the mummy track” after maternity leave. If you have similar concerns, you can be pro-active by using your “Keeping In Touch” days. You are allowed to work up to ten days for your employer during your maternity leave, without officially returning to work and bringing your maternity pay to an end. Slater & Gordon has helped women in difficult workplaces use these days strategically, as a way to head off the pre-conceptions that they might otherwise face as new mums looking to get back to their career. 

Here are some suggestions for how to make your KIT days work for you.

1.     External events
Do you have a role where it is important to maintain a high profile in your industry?  If so then you could use your KIT days to cherry-pick some key conferences or networking events to attend that will allow you to maintain a level of visibility among your peers. 

2.     Training
Do you work in a particularly fast-moving area?  If being out of work for up to a year is going to mean you will have a lot of new developments to catch up on, the best option for you may be to use your KIT days to attend training events.  Even if you are already keeping yourself updated in a less structured way during your maternity leave, asking if you can attend some formal training will highlight to your boss that you are staying on top of things.  If your colleagues are too busy to attend external training, you could offer to come into the office to give a presentation reporting back on what you learned.  Not only are you keeping up to date during your maternity leave - you might even be seen as the office expert on the new topic.   

3.     Client meetings
Does your job depend on strong client relationships?  You might have two or three key clients who are massively important to your success.  Unfortunately, we commonly see situations where important clients are handed over to a colleague for maternity cover, and then never returned when the employee comes back from maternity leave.  If you identify this as a key problem for you, then you could even consider using your KIT days to attend important client meetings and maintain the relationships that you worked so hard to build.  And being able to say “yes, I am on maternity leave, but I know how important this project is for you” can earn you brownie points from the client.   

4.     Team meetings
One of the most difficult situations you could face is a change of personnel during your maternity leave.  A new boss won’t necessarily understand your contribution to the team.  Even if this doesn’t happen, you might still feel it’s a priority to maintain good communication with the team you left behind.  In this instance, your KIT days could be used to attend internal events, for example team-building days, training sessions and strategy meetings.

5.     Emergency cover
If your colleagues are up to their necks in a project and need another pair of hands, then you could even consider using your KIT days to come to the rescue.  But make sure that you are putting your own needs first and consider whether this is the best option for you.  If you think that pulling out all the stops be a “team player” will help you on your return from maternity leave, then by all means use some of your KIT days for this sort of cover. 

Of course, the answer for most people is to mix and match from the above suggestions.  Your employer does not have to agree to let you work any of the KIT days you suggest, but the simple act of making a request will show that you are still engaged with your career. If the worst happens and you do suffer discrimination on your return, the fact that your KIT day was refused might be relevant evidence. 

The key point is to have a plan. Think about what concerns your boss, clients and colleagues might have - rightly or wrongly - about someone who has recently returned from an extended period away from work.  If you are worried about being side-lined on your return, use your KIT days to pre-emptively address these concerns, you will be protecting your position at the same time as making sure you can hit the ground running when you return from maternity leave. 

Lauren Hillier is a solicitor with Slater & Gordon Lawyers. The employment team at Slater & Gordon is independently recognised as the UK's leading employment teams for individuals. If you would like to know more, please visit http://www.slatergordon.co.uk/employment-law/

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