Maternity leave still a challenge for employers

A pregnant woman at work. Stock photo by Getty Images.

With maternity leave so well-established in the workplace, why do the problems remain? Probably because there are still challenges for most employers.

Finding a replacement is a big issue, especially for smaller employers, said Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in Toronto.

“You’ve got to do the recruitment, you have to do the hiring, you have to get them trained — none of this happens overnight — and, of course, you have to hold the job open with often not always a guarantee that that person is going to come back,” she said.

“As much as you want to be accommodating and help out, it does have an impact, ultimately, on effectiveness and operations.”

Too often, new parents who might know halfway through the leave that they don’t plan to return to their employer are afraid to say anything for fear of losing their government benefits — which they won’t. But waiting until the last minute to give notice causes headaches for the employer, which may have already dismissed the replacement, said Pohlmann.

The other challenge is a business can change dramatically over the course of a year, she said.

“Depending on the type of business it is, there could be all kinds of retraining that has to be done, so it’s about getting that person back into the workplace and making sure that they’re able to take on the challenges... so finding the right accommodation for them and making sure that the job is equivalent to what they had before and, at the same time, training them into potentially what has occurred over the course of the last year and getting them back into that comfort zone takes extra effort and productivity and time.”

Maternity leaves are a challenge, particularly in Canada, said Lisa Kimmel, president of PR firm Edelman Canada in Toronto.

“Twelve months is a long time in the life of business and so the pace of change that’s occurring across so many different industries and sectors means that when you have an employee out for 12 months, things have changed so it can create challenges when you’re trying to think about resourcing and staffing on business, and then also reintegration of those people.”

Employers have to find ways to make this work, said Souha Ezzedeen, an associate professor at the School of Human Resource Management at York University in Toronto, so that means initiatives such as job sharing, rotations and cross-training so they don’t necessarily have to hire a replacement.

“There also can be arrangements of some kind of moderate contact with the office — there’s different ways of working it out, it doesn’t have to be an either/or… And I get the cost (issue) but, then again, companies need to weigh the cost of that replacement against the cost of losing a great employee.”

A tough economy may play against all of this, with employers having their pick of candidates, she said.

“There’s so many to choose from, you’re not going to choose necessarily those that are going to cost you more; however, there is some evidence to indicate that working moms or moms who took time off and now are trying to come back, they’re doubly committed when someone gives them a chance and they work 10 times better.”

Ultimately, while employers aim to be profitable, “there’s more progressive economic thinking that argues that when you do the right thing, above and beyond your bottom line, you reap even more benefits,” said Ezzedeen.

— read the full article at Canadian HR Reporter

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