As wonderful as it is to learn that an employee has some exciting news around a pending ‘new arrival’, it can naturally be a challenging time for employers who inevitably have to start thinking about how the absence will impact the business.

Covering a period of leave can be particularly challenging for small businesses where one person can have responsibility for many different tasks, wear several different ‘hats’ and hold expert knowledge across several areas. 

Employers are essentially faced with the important balancing act of supporting employees to take the leave, without any undue worry about work, whilst simultaneously ensuring important business needs will continue to be met.

So, where should employers start?

Good planning at the earliest opportunity (ideally from the point the news is first shared) is naturally important, starting with a review of the role to be covered.  

Employers should ensure that the job specification for the role is up to date and fully reflective of the day to day requirements. Has the role evolved over time? Does the employee deal with additional tasks which aren’t documented? Does the employee hold any specialist knowledge that will need to be shared? 

Once satisfied the job specification is accurate and it is clear what responsibilities need to be covered, employers may consider internal solutions. I.e. is there is any scope to redistribute work to other members of the team in the short term or is it is possible to arrange an internal secondment whereby another employee transfers into the role on temporary basis? This can often present a good opportunity to develop an existing member of the team whilst providing the cover needed for the duration of the leave.  

Naturally, in the absence of any reasonable internal solutions, external recruitment on a temporary or fixed term basis may be a good alternative. However, in some cases, temporary and/or fixed term roles can be less attractive to candidates and therefore more difficult to fill. That said, opportunities for temporary positions can be attractive to candidates where scope exists for further opportunities or future vacancies within the business and as such, employers may want to consider advising of this possibility from the outset.

If the usual recruitment methods don’t generate the requisite level of interest, it may be worth considering working with a reputable recruitment agency that not only understands the role requirements but also appreciates the values of the business in order to source appropriate potential candidates. If the agency doesn’t ask about the company culture or values, they won’t necessarily be able to deliver the right candidates for the business. When working with agencies, it is always worthwhile discussing and agreeing preferential rates from the outset to mitigate the costs involved.

When considering arrangements for cover, it’s also worth bearing in mind:

  • Employees can work up to 10 days during their maternity, adoption or shared parental leave without affecting statutory payments. These days are called ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days. Whilst KIT days are optional, making the most of KIT days can be mutually beneficial for employees, as a way of keeping up to date, and for employers who can often benefit from an extra pair of hands.
  • Allowing a handover period either side of leave (wherever possible) is a good way to make sure whoever assumes the responsibilities can transition into the role as effectively as possible and can help employees get back up to speed on their return.