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Updated 30 Sep 2020

Deciding on a maternity leave policy as a small business

It’s an unfortunate reality that with many South African companies – even in large corporates – maternity leave policies are less than generous. 

Catherine Black, 19 November 2017  Share  0 comments  Print

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Whether it’s no pay or very little time-off to look after a new baby, maternity leave challenges can make things difficult for working mothers (and the businesses that employ them). 

If you’re a small business, it’s likely that you don’t have the budget or extra manpower to offer long-term paid maternity leave to your employees. But on the other hand, chances are you’re more flexible than a large corporate when it comes to things like how and when your employee does their job. Working within your constraints, here are six things to think about when crafting your maternity leave policy:

1. Understand the legal issues 

According to South Africa’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act, all South African employees are entitled to four months of unpaid maternity leave, starting one month before their due date. 

During this time, you are not under any obligation to pay them, but you must give them that time off and keep them employed. As a supplemental income, your employees can claim UIF from the Department of Labour for a maximum of 121 days (you’re entitled to one month of UIF for every 6 months you have been contributing to the fund).

Related: 10 Employment Acts start-ups must know when hiring employees

2. Decide how much you can pay them 

Although it’s not a legal requirement to pay your employees while they’re on maternity leave, the reality is that this loss of income can be a huge strain – especially given all the additional expenses involved with a new baby.

As a small business, you may feel the pinch paying for someone who’s not at work, but there are lots of ways to structure this. For example, you could give them two months of full pay, one month of half pay, and one month unpaid.

Or, you could pay them two-thirds of their salary for all four months. While it may seem expensive to do this – especially if you’re also employing a temporary replacement in their absence – it makes sense in retaining a quality employee over the long term, especially considering recruitment costs for hiring someone new down the line. If you’re in the financial position to provide them with a good maternity medical aid option, in addition to their pay, your employee will appreciate it more than you know. 

3. Decide how much time off they’ll get 

While the legal requirement is four months off, as a small business you may be more flexible and be able to give your employee more time at home with her new baby after this time has passed.

You may, for example, be able to give her four months off and then allow her to work to a flexible work schedule for the next three or six months after that. This could take the form of job sharing, working flexible hours or from home, or working one less day a week for slightly less pay. 

Related: 8 Free resources for setting up business processes and systems

4. Be flexible 

Being a flexible employer is invaluable to a working mother, and it’s one of the best ways to cultivate loyalty from them to your organisation.

Realise that there’s a good chance that now that they have a dependant, they need their salary more than ever – so it’s even more important to them to make the job work. But you don’t want them suffering burnout or exhaustion either, as they try and juggle their extra workload. 

Consider allowing your employees to work flexi-hours, so that they’re able to take their child to the doctor or nurse, for example. Or, let them work from home for the mornings or afternoons, so that they can spend more time while their baby is young. 

5. Think about what will happen while they’re out of the office

Depending on the industry you’re in and the type of business you have, you may need to think about how you’ll manage the workload with one less employee.

You could solve this through employing temporary contract workers, or assigning more work to other staff (with remuneration incentives for them to do so). You could also take on less client work while your employee is out of the office – though it is typically hard to say no to new business.

Related: Want to exit the company? Here’s your shareholder exit strategy

6. Keep the lines of communication open

Having a child is a different experience for everyone, and women will have different ideas of how they will adjust their life once the baby is here.

For this reason, it’s important to keep the lines of communication clear, so that both you and your employee can manage expectations including leave time, remuneration and responsibilities. You may find that your employee feels she will be perfectly happy to come back to work after three months, but after the baby arrives, things change completely. If you’re flexible and open to alternative solutions, you should be able to reach an optimal solution that suits everyone. 

As a small business owner, offering a very generous maternity leave policy may seem like a huge expense. But think of it rather as an investment in retaining a really good, experienced employee. Chances are that if you show your flexibility and generosity in this area, you’ll end up with a much more reliable, loyal and dedicated employee once they do return to work.

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About the author

Catherine Black

Catherine Black is co-founder of Black Mountain, a specialist web copywriting agency that produces high quality, search-friendly web content. The agency reflects the unique personalities of its founders, Catherine Black and Belinda Mountain.

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