Balancing work, health and family can be a tall order in this day and age. If there’s one thing you don’t want to worry about, it’s your or your partner’s pregnancy affecting your career. Here’s what you need to know about maternity leave…
Whether planned or unplanned, pregnancy for any parent requires a big paradigm shift. But among all the preparations, doctors’ appointments and anticipation that come with falling pregnant, you still have to make arrangements with work to take off your due maternity leave. Do you know how to go about it, and what it all entails? Brush up on your (or your partner’s) rights regarding maternity leave in SA, so you know what to expect when you’re expecting.
The mother’s rights
In South Africa, a pregnant worker is well-protected by the law. Maternity rights – including conditions around leave, and safe-guarding women against discrimination with regards to their pregnancy – are legislated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), the Employment Equity Act and the Constitution of SA. However, there may be a slight difference between the minimum rights of maternity leave as indicated in the BCEA, and your employer’s human resources (HR) policies. In most cases, employers don’t deviate much from what is required of them by law, but it is worth looking into any potential employer’s maternity leave policies long before they may need to be engaged (for example, a specified amount of time at the company may be required before you will be entitled to take paid maternity leave).
MATERNITY LEAVE 101
Here, Jan Truter, director at Labourwise, simplifies what you need to know.
How do I qualify for maternity leave?
All female employees who work for 24 hours or more per month qualify. You qualify immediately, irrespective of whether you’re employed on a permanent, fixed-term or part-time basis.
How much leave do I get? And when do I take it?
Women are entitled to four consecutive months’ maternity leave – to commence any time from four weeks before your due date, and to end no earlier than six weeks after the birth of your infant. You should give your employer at least four weeks’ written notice stipulating these dates. You do not have to take the full four months; however, you may not return to work earlier than six weeks after the birth of your child.
What if my baby arrives earlier than the expected due date?
These time periods may be affected by your health and the health of your unborn or newborn baby. A medical practitioner or your midwife may state in writing that your maternity leave should commence earlier than the four weeks specified by the BCEA, or that you are fit to return to work earlier than six weeks after the birth. In practice, the employer and employee usually agree in advance when and for how long the employee will be on maternity leave. If necessary, this arrangement may be changed to accommodate a change of circumstances – as long as this falls within the confines of the BCEA.
Do I get paid during maternity leave? What is UIF?
Your employer is not legally obligated to pay you at all during maternity leave. Yet some employers have policies that provide for maternity leave to be paid, either in part or in full. Also remember that your employer (and you) should have been contributing to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), which makes some specific provisions for maternity benefits. The UIF does not pay out your full salary during maternity leave, though. The amount that is paid depends on how much you earn – it works on a sliding scale that varies between 38 and 60% of your remuneration (low earners are paid a larger percentage of their income than the higher earners).
The time after birth is different for everyone. So this part of your hiatus from work is personal and totally unpredictable: how you will experience and take to motherhood; what role work will play in your changing identity as a new mother; whether you crave or curse work in the first place. As much as we are told modern women can have it all, trying to ‘do it all’ can inevitably lead to something suffering. So take the time you need after your baby’s arrival to recalibrate on where to from here.
If an imminent return to work part- or full-time is on the cards for you, here are some great ways to embrace the transition:
• If you’re breastfeeding, be realistic about the practicalities around pumping at work. Talk to your boss about the time and space required, and come to work prepared with all the necessary equipment, storage containers and so on.
• Ease back into your work schedule slowly. Work your way up to a full day instead of jumping straight back in. One option is to negotiate an earlier return than your scheduled date, starting out with a few half-days initially, and then slowly increasing your hours.
For your employer
• Work out a plan with your boss and colleagues before you leave. Collaborate on what you will miss, and what your return will look like. This will prevent unexpected deep-ends when you least need them.
• Meet with your manager, preferably off-site, before your official return. Discuss any changes, priorities and flexibility going forward.
• Prepare yourself for the inevitable roller coaster of emotions – from fatigue to guilt. Hang in there, and if things don’t improve after a few months, make changes.
• Say no! Do well what is required of you, but no more than that – not in those first few vulnerable months. And use the minutes shaved off here and there to rest, eat well and take care of yourself.
Words by Ciska Thurman
Photography: Gallo/GettyImages, Courtesy Images