The Secret Entrepreneur: Maternity Leave

In The Secret Entrepreneur’s latest blog they reveal what they really think about maternity leave legislation

Revealing all about the business world, the Secret Entrepreneur is here to tell the full, unvarnished, truth about life as the CEO of a fast-growing business. Our Secret Entrepreneur has been lifting the lid on the angst, frustrations, and realities of running a multi-million turnover company right here. In their last column  our Secret Entrepreneur told what it’s really like to have to sack people and shared some of their most difficult experiences of delivering the bad news. Here, they reveal what they really think about one of the most delicate issues business owners face: maternity leave legislation. “I’m pretty certain this won’t be something that many publicly agree with, but I can swear, hand-on-heart, that every entrepreneur I’ve ever talked to (male and female) has expressed much the same opinion. In hushed tones and off-the-record, of course.

What am I talking about? Employment rights. In particular, maternity leave.

Let’s start by getting things straight – I have absolutely no problem with people having kids. Nor do I have any problem with supporting them to come back in to the workplace afterwards. It generally makes a huge amount of sense for all involved. I’ve been through it many times with many employees. A great member of staff will always be welcomed back and I’ll bend over backwards to make sure we can accommodate them.

So, what’s the problem then? Well, I said ‘a great member of staff’. In fact, this goes even for an ‘OK’ member of staff. The problem is that I have been absolutely screwed over by shit members of staff going on maternity leave.

I have been in the situation of hauling someone on a probationary period in to tell them they haven’t made the grade, only to be informed – before I can say a word – that they are pregnant. And yes, they did know they were pregnant before they took the job several months ago.

Shit. OK I think, I won’t mention that we’re letting her go right now, I’ll call our employment lawyers and see what they think (top tip, always run anything like this past one, preferably one who will offer you an indemnity).

The moment I mention the pregnancy, they tell me to forget about letting her go as there’s no way in hell they’ll indemnify us for that. Tribunal waiting to happen – even if she loses, we lose because of the costs involved.

Now, not only do I have to keep her on until she goes on maternity leave, I have to welcome her back afterwards.

Guess what? By this time, her probationary period has long passed, so it’s next to impossible to let her go without getting really nasty. Having someone pick fault in her work continuously and take her through performance reviews. The kind of thing that saps time and destroys morale for all involved. It’s actually just cheaper to hire another part time member of staff to clear up her mistakes.

I figured that maybe I was just unlucky, so I talked to some friends about this to see what they had to say. More than one had been in an identical situation. It’s stressful, costly and demoralising. Legislation designed to encourage good practice just ends up rewarding those who least deserve it.

Frankly I can imagine that it’s enough to have the reverse effect to that intended, and make some people think twice about employing a woman of childbearing age, just in case. Especially if you’re a small business with just a handful of staff.

Not me, I hasten to add, I still carry the self-deluding notion that everything will work out for the best in the end. But that’s a topic for another time.”

You can read the other columns from The Secret Entrepreneur right here on Startups.co.uk.

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