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Updated 27 Sep 2020

Efficiently managing maternity leave in your small business

More and more women are choosing to delay having children while they establish their careers first. Considering this trend, small businesses will feel the pressure of one less person at work. 

Belinda Mountain, 22 December 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions

While the maternity leave issue poses various challenges for small to medium-sized businesses, they can all be overcome with a bit of planning and lateral thinking.

Here are some of the maternity leave challenges small businesses may face, and tips on how to deal with them:

1. Cashflow

The lifeblood of any growing business is cash flow. Without it, you can’t pay salaries or expenses. When someone goes on maternity leave, it may be challenging to pay her a salary plus cover normal business expenses while she is away.

One way to get around this is for the business to retain some of her salary three or four months preceding her leave, which could then be used to supplement her income while she takes a salary cut during her maternity leave.

Related: Cover all your bases when it comes to employment agreements

2. Sharing the load 

Depending on the nature of the business, you may need to find a temporary replacement for the person going on leave. But you could also be flexible about this, for example by using freelancers to fill the gap and having existing employees take on a little more work while she is gone.

The cost of hiring a completely new person on a temporary basis should be carefully considered, taking into account their ability, cost to company and perceived value.

3. Managing expectations

Maternity -leave -expectations

Having a child is a very personal life event, and people’s expectations differ on how their baby will fit into their work and leisure time. Avoid misunderstandings by communicating openly with the pregnant employee on their expectations for their maternity leave, and when they hope to return. Things do change, but if you stay flexible as a business owner and plan properly, the absence shouldn’t impact your business too acutely.

4. Legalities 

Under South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act, all employees are entitled to four months of unpaid leave, after which they must return to work in order to stay employed. If they are not earning a salary while on maternity leave, they can claim compensation from the Maternity Benefit Fund from the Department of Labour, as long as they’ve been contributing to UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) for at least four years prior to that.

While this is the law, you as a business may decide that a person taking maternity leave will earn some form of salary while they’re gone. No matter what your business size, decide on your company’s maternity leave policy and invite feedback from your employees before finalising it.

Related: Understanding the Basic Conditions of Employment Act

5. Coming back to work

The reality is that most small businesses do not have the luxury of offering long-term paid maternity leave to their employees. But the plus side of this is that growing businesses generally have a flexible approach to working hours, which larger corporates may not. So even if your employee does have to return to work after three months, you could compensate for this by allowing them the flexibility to work from home for the first few weeks they are back.

They can then, for example, work mornings in the office and have flexible hours for the rest of the day while they’re at home with their baby. Once their child is a little older, they can then return fulltime, perhaps with reduced flexible hours moving forward.

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About the author

Belinda Mountain

Written by Belinda Mountain for Fedhealth. Fedhealth’s proud heritage dates back to 1936. Run by members for members, they’re a scheme governed with a completely transparent approach to medical aid: offering an extensive range with options for everyone, unique benefits and the best support.

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