Maternity Alliance gives free advice to pregnant women about maternity rights.
Emma Howard: Now, we all know combining motherhood and work can be a real juggling act and for many women having a baby come out in the end of their career with some employees effectively forcing the mothers from the work place. Well, with me to discuss this is Nancy Platts who’s the Director of the Maternity Alliance, which is a national charity that gives free advice to women expecting a baby or who’ve already have them about their rights. Also with us is Justine Neale, a mom of two who’s employer made every effort to accommodate her when she had her children. So, a good new story there, Justine. We’ll hear more about that in a minute. First of all Nancy, it’s clear that we just don’t know our rights, do we? We have so many women calling you, thousands of women calling you, looking you up on the website. We really don’t know what we can encounter. Nancy Platts: Absolutely, many people don’t know what their rights are and they often leave it too late before they call us as well. I mean our daily what we want us for people to stop bringing us quite early on maybe when they’re already pregnant so think about getting pregnant and then we can start to perhaps going through a check list of what the entitled to, what they should be thinking about, what they should be talking with their employees with us. Emma Howard: And what is the Maternity Alliance all about because you really talked to them about the whole range of things that from them your pregnant right through to come back to work or staying at work? Nancy Platts: Yes, we were set up around 25 years ago. So as you can see the purpose have been around for quite sometime and still not quite solved and we exist really just to give advice to women whether they’re at work or even if they are not at work but rights and benefits. So what kind of money and financial support they can claim and what they’re employment rise on so they’ve got some kind of back up when they talk to their employer. Emma Howard: And do you find that women are talking to you about one worry in particular or you’re just getting everybody at every stage? Nancy Platts: It could be at all kind of things. To some women were worrying and say, I’m pregnant. What’s the right time to tell my employer? They really worry about getting the timing line and often people don’t want to say anything to employer, within the first three months of being pregnant. Summing up, because perhaps made redundant or they’ve been sanctioned to the fact that they’re pregnant. They want to know what they can do about it and then you’ve got a whole range of things in between that just mainly asking for financial advice. How can they get access to rights and benefits and some kind of financial support? Emma Howard: What was the first thing you asked them? What’s the first thing they’ll get you hand out? Nancy Platts: All kinds of things really depending on the problem but we’ll often ask them if there any trade union because you then can offer some financial support and help if you had to go to the extreme which should be an employment tribunal if you can't solve your problem because we can just give people verbal advice. We can give some bit information but we can't take them right through the process. Emma Howard: You have a big financial back up? Nancy Platts: Unfortunately, we haven’t. Emma Howard: The sad truth these days that so many thousands of women don’t belong to Trade Unions and they work for the small companies so they need you more than ever really. Nancy Platts: They do and I think unions could do more to trans- sell themselves to women and say look, we are here and we can support you but women do need to be in a union before they’re getting pregnant because otherwise, it’s no good waiting until the last minute when you’ve got a problem before deciding to join a union and if you’re already in, they will, support you right through. I think it’s really, really important as many women as possible do claim what they’re entitled to and do stand up for themselves and get their rights. Emma Howard: I’ve just got to know what those rights are. And now, you’re sitting next to Justine who is a good new story. Your employer really looked after you because presumably, you’ve just asked them what your rights and they’ve told you. Justine Neale: Yes, well, working for BT, we’ve got a massive come in the internet so as soon as I was pregnant, I went straight to day child pages when actually that kind of information would be and how to look on all the maternity section there and very likely because they’ve got policies written out, they refer to the websites or their interest. Really, I don’t recall any reference to the maternity lines and perhaps an interesting one but yes, everything was laid out. The benefits that people can claim, what the company offers— Emma Howard: Do you felt supported? Justine Neale: Yeah, absolutely! And there’s also within HR, they’ve got their own dedicated maternity team as well. So, you have actually got somebody that you can speak to as Nancy was saying that a lot of people don’t want to approach their employer within the first trimester. If I didn’t want to talk to my manager about, at least I could speak to somebody in HR with discretion and not disclose my position if I— Emma Howard: And can I ask you, is that what you did? At what point did you say to your employer on the expecting date? Justine Neale: I actually waited until I passed the first trimester. Emma Howard: Which is a lost of— Justine Neale: Yeah, absolutely! When start to feel like, you’re actually at the danger zone— Emma Howard: And you feel sure that you’re going to have a baby? Justine Neale: Yeah, your going to have a baby and it’s not just honest that you’ve had for two weeks but I did that, yes. Emma Howard: And were you worried at all that it would affect your job when you came back? Did you think, I’ve got to work out, what I’m going to do now or I’m just going to go with the flow and see how I feel when I’ve had the baby? Justine Neale: What I did with my first child because at the point that I have my first child, I had quite the job was of high profile and how to team that were based all around the UK and there was a lot of travel and social hours. Emma Howard: And that had to change? Justine Neale: It had to change. It had to change. There was somebody sort of meeting you as if a cloak at the end of the day. You couldn’t still in your boss’s office at eight o’clock in the evening and talking about tomorrow’s presentation so it did change and it was at that point that I decided that you know the career would go on hold and I actually approached the company to say if I could change my working hours and do part time because I felt that way. I could really give the best of both worlds to both being a mother. I wonder why as well and to the company that I felt that if I was there, I’d just do three days at the moment and I felt that if I was doing three days, I could still give them a hundred, a 110% over three days yet for me personally, that would have waned if I did maintain the role that I was doing before. Emma Howard: And clearly that’s the benefit. I mean that is really what company should focus on, isn’t it? I mean that if you know, if they allow people’s to do flexible working hours and come back when they want that they get an employer who’s motivated, an employee who’s motivated I should say. Do you think that is a danger for lot of employees? That they didn’t see it like that that all they see is lost. They had somebody a 100%. They have a baby, they’d come back. They don’t have them a 100%, isn’t that the perception? Those are the stories we read about. That’s the negative side of it, isn’t it? Nancy Platts: Yes, and I think particularly with the smaller employers, I think as Justine said, BT is a big multi national company and they’re large enough to have good employment practices and to put them into place and have back up to this is maternity team is absolutely fantastic. It means you’ve got people really know that stuff. Emma Howard: And we don’t need you because you’re not on their web site but they don’t need you but there are thousands of women who do. Nancy Platts: Yes, and for small employees and particularly those that we call micro employees because they have less than 10 employees. That’ll have one average woman that’s pregnant about once every 10 years so it’s not going to be something they get used to that probably but we’re not going to up to the later legislation what I want to do. And like all aspects to discrimination, it rises through fears. So because employees are frightened about what’s going on and is the right thing to do. They focus on the detriments to the business, how things are going to go wrong rather than looking at a positive side which is often you can have better and you’ll leave coverage during the holiday times with two part time workers because at least for half of the week, you’ve got somebody in or you can extend the working hours and extend flexible working to benefit your business. Maybe have longer opening hours or something like that and there are lots of positive examples around but the most important thing for employees is going to be the economic arguments and if you have spent money with creating somebody and spent money training somebody but you can keep them working for you, that would be a cheaper option than sucking them and making them redundant. Emma Howard: And retraining somebody else? Nancy Platts: And retraining somebody else when we’re creating them and so there is a very strong argument for saying, get flexible working right and actually it’s going to benefit your business. Emma Howars: So, would you look at somebody or talked to somebody who’s left, who’s had a baby and isn’t sure about going back or who’s done a deal with their employer about how they’ll go back and then the reality of this baby hits them and they don’t want to leave it in the same way or clientele, what kinds of problems can have a company? You might think you ready to bottle feed your baby and find the baby’s reject to the bottle. The baby hasn’t read your plan. What options do you have to go back both at stake. You know what we’ve talked about, can we change it? Nancy Platts: The easiest way to keep your boss happy is to start talking about this early on so like with all of these, you need to sit down and think about what you want to have out of it and who’s I think about how your employers going to manage that and employers will like it if you look at it from that perspective. So think about the kind of problems you employer might have providing cover but also then state to them, we need some contingents of your time here. I’m often done with women maternities to say, if you’re going to come back full time, make the first few days say, 10 to 4 or something to avoid the rush hour and give yourself time because taking the child into child care for the first time may not be the experience that you’re expecting it to be. They might lose sight or they don’t want to go. It’s going to be quite difficult to manage emotionally as well for a sickly mom with their first child, its going to be quite difficult thing to do. So you have to have some kind of leeway. I would always suggest to both employer and employee have a bit of a gap when you know things aren’t going to be quite right for few weeks and let people settle back into work. You know what, you usually find is you get 10 times amount of goodwill back for moms just because they’re place has been made a less stressful experience. Emma Howard: And Nancy reminds us of some of the hard facts. We know that you can go to your employer and you can ask them for flexible working hours. Do they have to give them to you? Nancy Platts: They don’t have to, I’m afraid. One of the things that we campaign for is the right to have flexible working if you have a child under two, because there’s such a shortage of child care out there that’s affordable. It’s very expensive to put a child under two into child care. But what you can do is put a case to your employer and they have to have good business reasons for refusing you so if for example, later is going to adversely affect costumer service or they’re going to lose money. That would be good business where you lose— Emma Howard: And they have to put that in one thing? Nancy Platts: They do and they have to prove that and but there are time limits around so you have to give your employer time to consider this. So don’t wait until a week before. You need to be thinking about three to four months ahead. It will take about six weeks to get the application through and up to two months, perhaps for your employer to work around, how they’re reorganize the office so whatever is they’re going to do for you to come back on different arrangements. So you really need to be thinking about it well, in advance and at that point, it’s much easy to negotiate than some kind of contingency a pile of things don’t go quite right to the last minute. Emma Howard: And what about if you’re a bit nervous and you’re not going to be putting where in case for and you’re unsure of the law, should you take someone with you to those kinds of meetings? Would you advice taking a third party? Nancy Platts: I think it’s always good to have someone with you just to give you a bit of moral support because coming back from having a baby is probably feeling quite emotionally vulnerable and if somebody starts to give you a bit of a hard time, they might not intend to give you a hard time but they need some straight answers to some questions. Emma Howard: And you might read it as a hard time? Nancy Platts: Yeah, and you know that’s going to be quite hard to take but if you have somebody with you that actually knows what your rights are such as again, a union rep or even a friend or a colleague that knows what you’re entitled to and they can list it and perhaps work and compromise. If you can't have exactly what you want, the employer could say, well, we can't give you these hours but if we did it like this instead it worked. Emma Howard: And make it a union call you and you could talk them through that process, couldn’t you? Nancy Platts: Absolutely! Yes. Emma Howard: So they could get a structure from your organization at least? Nancy Platts: We can talk them through it and we can also send them some back up with information. We could send them a couple of copies. They can give one to their employer and they can keep one for themselves and they can go through it and talk about what they want to do, what arrangements they want to have. We can give them some additional information they might not know about so that we can tell them how to claim tax credit through example. It would help with the cost of the child care. Emma Howard: And people have no idea about this, yes. Nancy Platts: No, some people don’t know and they find out often too late to claim and then if you don’t claim within three months, you’ll lose money and these will kind of lose about time limits. You’d again, t think early on and then plan it and you’ll much more like to get what you’re entitled to and made life easy for your self. Emma Howard: And think early on correct really quite clearly. Justine, you didn’t need this because your employer was so inside but— Justine Neale: Yes. Emma Howard: But did you find you had friends around you at the same time you had your first baby who were in a tightly different situation? Justine Neale: Yes, a close friend that develop actually and she works as assistant dental nurse and very much as Nancy were saying, you’ve not got such a high chance of women going on maternity leave and she was having a horrendous difficulties with her employer and flexibility. And I think it does depend on not just working from micro organization but into a degree and I hate to say this. Perhaps depends on the type of role you’ve got in an organization because I was of a rolled up managed people both of part time, fulltime being on maternity leave and one of the things used that Nancy. Think about it if you were the employer, what would you like somebody to ask you as much notice. So what actually been through that is managing of my team yet my friend, none of her colleagues had ever really experience that. She haven’t even got anything contractually written down with her on new leave and let her learn anything else. Emma Howard: So, she felt completely bad about it? Justine Neale: yeah, she felt very vulnerable and to a degree, there was the potential that she could have been manipulated far more easily because the dentist, you know he could tell you about your cavities but when it really came to—what it really came down to the benefit, the time off, time off even both alternately and postnatal because she have to go back after three months because financially they couldn’t afford to. Emma Howard: Yes, and they mentioned that’s right top. Justine Neale: Absolutely! Emma Howard: It’s interesting to talk about employers because I want to bring it back to them and to finish really on them. I want you to say something to then rather than the employees. We’ve been discussing what women can do to help themselves as employees but what about the employees? What did they get to gain? What are the positives they’ve got to gain? Because you feel that they don’t really tune into the fact that they’ll have a better employee back if they allow flexible working hours. So, what’s your message to them? Nancy Platts: Well, absolutely pregnancy is often seen as a bit of a problem and something they’ve got to deal with. Well then actually positives it can come out of it and what my experience certainly of having women return is that they come back, they’re very focus, they sit down like all the job, they don’t spend a lot of time having a chat and a coffee. They’re very much about getting the job done because they’re very conscious that they’re going to try and do in a shortest space of time. Emma Howard: And that time is so precious. Nancy Platts: Absolutely! But also, it’s the good mood and they say please that they’ve managed to go back and do over in the similar job and work flexibly and they have their family. They're just very grateful for that and you often get quite a lot of flexibility back as well and I think that makes a new investment in that employee. That you know the recruitment, the training, everything you’ve put into that before they had the baby worthwhile and you keep in the company and I think that’s very important and often see, they’ve realized that and they’ve hanged on to Justine and in think that’s a really positive thing. Emma Howard: And the women who need your advice? I’m sure man would need your advice as well to support their promise. They can call you and we’ll give back the number later and they can reach you online. What’s your web address? Nancy Platts: It’s www.maternityalliance.org.uk. Emma Howard: Well, Nancy Platts from the Maternity Alliance and Justine Neale, thank you both very much for coming and to talk with them.