Returning to the Work Place After Having a Baby: What You Need to Know
The mere fact of being a woman can be a stigma. On your period? ‘No one wants to know about your cramps!’ Pregnant and not doing very well? ‘Medieval women managed without going to the doctor every two days!’ Even being cold and asking for the heating to be turned up is a gendered problem: women tend to run a couple of degrees colder than men and find a man’s idea of ‘pleasantly cool’ to be ‘uncomfortably cold’ – unless she’s in menopause, in which case she becomes a furnace which could heat the entire office block! But, again, ‘the change’ is not seen as something that needs to have a place in the office.
Of course, these ideas are discriminatory and out of place: as soon as women moved into and upwards in the workplace, male-centric ideas should have been shelved in the ‘bad old days’ where they belong. But they have not been, and one area which is still sadly lacking is in the enormous overlap in the words ‘working mother’.
Western countries seem to think of childbirth and pregnancy as something rather embarrassing and quite uncivilised – just as they do menstruation, menopause and a host of other female only happenstances – when in fact children are literally our future, and raising them should take input from the whole community, rather than leaving it to the mother: the only one who physically cannot sidestep the responsibility for said child.
It is into this climate that you may be planning on returning to work, either to your old job or to a new one that will hopefully give you enough flexibility to juggle preschool, activities and work. So what do you need to know before you let your employer know you will be starting back at work?
You Must Disclose
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have had a baby within the last six months, you must disclose this to your boss. This is because UK law insists upon a risk assessment being undertaken before you are permitted back to work: risks can include exposure to even small amounts of harmful chemicals including some cleaning products, manual handling, especially lifting heavy objects, and physical exertion which can cause damage to a body still recovering from the rigours of pregnancy. This risk assessment is a good thing for you, and the law also covers your right to time for breastfeeding or pumping and other considerations that can make your transition back into the workplace much easier.
How Much Time Do You Have?
You are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave, and you have the right to return to your unchanged job if you return within 26 weeks. But even if you are returning after 26 weeks, your boss must have very good cause for changing the terms of your employment.
However long you decide to go onto maternity leave for, if you wish to extend or reduce this time, you are required to give your boss at least eight weeks’ notice, so they have time for your return or to arrange for a temporary arrangement to continue, such as with agencies like headhunters recruiters here.
Don’t Expect Things to Be Unchanged
When you return to work, you will have been through major physical, mental and emotional changes. You might find that the cut and thrust of office politics, once so fascinating, now bore you rigid. You may realise that your career is no longer so important – or conversely, that it means the world to you! Make your return as though you are entering the workplace for the first time, allow yourself time to adjust and get up to speed, and if in doubt, ask for a phased return.