I had a conversation recently with someone who is expecting her first child and she was curious as to what the law allowed as it related to pregnancy leave. This had me thinking, that many people, both employees and employers may not be aware of the changes in the law regarding maternity leave and this article is to provide an overview.
In March 2016, the long-awaited updated Labor law, named Decent Work Act (DWA) came into full effect. There has been a lot of misunderstanding regarding some of the new edicts within the DWA with many employers complaining that the new law is overly generous to employees, leaving employers with very little wiggling room. The DWA was created to better protect employees, with laws that now makes it much more difficult to terminate an employee on frivolous claims and completely removes the allowance of the old law where employers could terminate an employee “without cause”. But, that is another discussion for another day.
The DWA allows 14 weeks of maternity leave to an employee who has proven with a medical certificate that she is pregnant. This certificate should also indicate her estimated due date (20.2a) along with when she is expected to commence her maternity leave and when she expects to return.
Now, things may change depending on unforeseen complications and recovery related to the delivery so, there will need to be a bit of flexibility with the employer in terms of the exact dates on the certificate. Key in my opinion would be for the total time away from work for maternity not to exceed the allowable number of weeks (14 weeks) for the maternity leave.
The law also clearly states “An employed woman is entitled to receive from her employer the remuneration she would otherwise receive for her ordinary hours of work during any period of maternity leave.”, meaning, the employee should receive full salary and benefits while she is away from work on maternity leave. Some employers have the tendency to withhold certain benefits from employees who take maternity (and annual leave) claiming that the benefits are tied to coming to work. That is wrong and illegal.Extension Of Maternity Leave
If for some reason there is a complication which may require the new mother a need to extend the maternity leave, the DWA allows another one month of time away from work, however, this extra time will be unpaid time away from work.Perhaps in situations like these, if the employee has accrued annual leave, she could utilize those days to cover the extra days from work.
The DWA also allows for breastfeeding breaks of one hour each work day for the employee upon resumption of official duties. This nursing break will be available to the staff for up to six months after the birth of the child and is in addition to the one-hour lunch break legally mandated for each employee working an eight-hour work shift. The employee and her supervisor can arrange when this nursing break can be taken.
From past experience, an employee I knew worked it out with her supervisor to leave work at 3 daily instead of 5 by combining both her lunch break and nursing break. This meant more time at home to nurse and bond with her child.
All of this is regardless of how long the employee has been in the employ of the organization with no restrictions on how many children you already have, as is mandated in some countries.
Liberia’s 14 weeks of paid maternity leave is quite generous, compared to countries like the United States of America which offers 12 weeks of leave, but UNPAID. Yep, you can take up to 12 week away from work under the US Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during a one year period, but it will have to be unpaid. The United Kingdom offers up to 26 weeks of paid leave to its citizens . Neighboring African counties like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, all offer 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, with Ghana offering 12 weeks and only 50% of pay during this period. Other African countries are not so generous and offer only 30 days of paid leave (67% of pay) like Tunisia, Mozambique 60 days.
Things that are still unclear under the DWA: can an employee still take full maternity leave if the child was a still born or there is a miscarriage. For an underdeveloped country, my opinion is that this updated law is a good step in the right direction and generous.
What You As an Employee Need To Do: • Notify your employers as soon as it is reasonably possible about your pregnancy to provide them time to plan for coverage while you are away from work. Provide the medical certificate or notice as required by law.
• If there are complications after your delivery that may require extra time away from work, notify your supervisor about this officially in writing, requesting for the extra time from work. Keeping in mind the extension of the maternity leave may mean unpaid time away from work if you do not have other leave days available for you to utilize.
• Notify your employer about the dates you may need to go in for monthly prenatal checkup to provide coverage where needed. Communication is key and important. • Before taking your leave, you may want to come to an agreement with your employer regarding what amount of contact or support you would be willing to give while away from work. This will clearly identify what you are willing to do and not to do. It will also provide clear understanding on expectations.
What You As AnEmployer Cannot do:
• You cannot terminate the employment of an employee because she is pregnant and will need 3.5 months away from work.
• You cannot demote her upon her return to work or deny her promotion opportunities due to her pregnancy.
• You cannot compel her to come in while away on her maternity leave, unless she willingly agrees to come in to help cover some work that may be crucial.
• Planning Ahead;
• Plan a coverage – once you have been officially notified by the employee regarding her pregnancy, the smart thing to do would be to start planning coverage while she is away from work.
• Identify someone in the same unit or department who would be best suited to cover for the employee while she is away on maternity leave. This can be another employee, a temporary contractor, an intern or a vacation student, depending on the type of skills and complication of the job.
• Have the pregnant employee prepare detailed turning over note for whoever will be covering for her during her absence.
• Prepare a standard operating procedure (SOP) that someone covering will be able to follow step by step to guide him or her perform the job duties. Provide training to the staff that will be covering, if needed.
This is not the maximum that a company can offer, rather the minimum and as such, companies can decide to go above the minimum requirements noted by the law. It is important to note that companies will do well to foster a good working culture and environment for employees to ensure retention and a cordial working relationship with its employees and management. No company wants to have a situation where its employees are unhappy and don’t feel that work life balance is unfairly tilted in favor of the employer and that their legal rights are being violated and disregarded. So it is important that management makes every effort to ensure it adheres to the law and treat its employees with respect.
Remember, your employees are your most valuable assets.
About the author
Brenda Brewer Moore is a Human Resource Practitioner with over 15 years’ working experience in the field of Human Resource & Office Management with an Executive Masters in Business Administration and internationally certified as a Senior Professional Human Resource Professional (SPHR) from both the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Human Resource Certificate Institute (HRCI). She lives and work in Liberia.
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