What happens to your career once you’re pregnant?

So you’re pregnant. Now what? Aside from the excitement – and nerves – about expecting a baby, what happens to your career?

Having a baby is a wonderfully exciting time. But it’s also life and career-changing. If you’re wondering ‘what now’, Karen Holden, a working mum and owner of A City Law Firm, shares her advice and experience.

Just found out you are pregnant?

Remember, when announcing you are pregnant, you cannot be dismissed for this or for the amount of maternity leave you chose to take. This would be an unfair dismissal and employers cannot do this without risk of tribunal action.

Unfair dismissal is exactly what it says – where an employee is dismissed for an unfair reason. To be able to claim this, you must have been employed with that employer for at least two years, unless the dismissal reason is for pregnancy or maternity and then it is automatically unfair as its discrimination.

Make sure you document anything said, copy letters, and listen out to how other staff are being treated. Because if you feel treated less favourably after announcing your pregnancy you need to monitor this, and if you can evidence discrimination then a grievance is important.

You must take at least two weeks’ maternity leave following the birth of your baby, but you are legally entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave. The first 39 weeks are paid if you are an eligible employee. But check your employment contract because you may be entitled to more.

Know your rights – read your legal rights when planning your return to work after maternity leave, and read our legal FAQs on returning to work.

Returning to work after maternity leave?

Returning to work after your maternity period? It’s quite normal to feel nervous and relieved to have some adult conversation and the opportunity to exercise your brain again. How you may be feeling will often depend on your employer and the job you do. Other factors that may influence you are:

  • Inflexible hours.
  • The commute from hell.
  • A male-dominated work environment.
  • Not being able to socialise as much due to family commitments.
  • Believing a full time role is the only option with your job.

Not all jobs are like that and not all employers are inflexible, but here is what to you do if the above applies to you.

Your legal options

  • Flexible working – you can apply for flexible working hours and make a solid case for you staying on with these terms. This includes, for example, leaving early for the school run, but making up your hours elsewhere, or coming in later after drop off or working at home one day a week. An employer must by law consider reasonable requests seriously, but also has the complete discretion to deny your request.
  • Part time working – you can apply for part time working. This could mean a career break and a drop in salary and you still need to make the case to your employer that they should grant this, once again they have the power to reject this.
  • Job share – can you job share? Ask your company to hire another part time ‘you’ and share your salary and hours between the two of you. Employers can welcome the idea of two dedicated people who are motivated because they are working less time, however they may feel it’s too difficult. It’s worth a shot asking.

When requesting flexible working, part time working or a job share, remember to make your proposal solid and convincing.

Looking for a new role

If none of these proposals are accepted can you move careers and locate a better-suited role? Many mums are scared that potential employers will be anxious about taking on a new mum.

You don’t have to declare maternity or new parentage on your CV or at an interview, but if you do the employer cannot by law discriminate against you as a result. However, in practice they can make positive sounds and refuse the job stating there was a better applicant so the law whilst a deterrent, is not fool proof.

So plan your return or departure carefully, or prepare a convincing proposal for varying your terms. I have seen the major benefits of a happy work force with flexible arrangements around not just a family life but also generally a work-life balance.

Treating your staff fairly often means they are happy, committed and your clients and customers feel this. You look after them they respect you and work harder especially women with children they prove themselves and some flexibility means commitment for life.

My staff have job shared, worked part time or from home, get extended holiday periods and flexible hours, and have the right to a life. I know I enjoy working in an office with a welcoming atmosphere, and I know my clients feel the benefits of motivated service providers.

Read 12 things you should never do when returning to work after a career break. 

Decided not to return to work?

You may decide not to return to work after having a baby, and instead start your own business, buy a franchise, freelance or work as a consultant. This way you have no boss, no set hours and flexible arrangements. This solution isn’t without its own stress, but for man yeomen (including me!) it’s the best solution.

If you do decide to start your own business, make sure you fully understand what you’re about to do by researching and asking advisors. Most businesses will fail due to lack of preparation and understanding. There are many advisors who will give free advice to startups, or government-backed ones that are already paid for.

Things to consider when starting a business

  • Cash flow – all businesses need cash flow, so you will need an initial investment. A bank loan is great, but how are you going to fund your first year and generate income?
  • A plan B – have you got a plan if things go wrong? Do you know how and if you can exit the business if it doesn’t work? Make sure that if possible you have the appropriate insurance policies in place.
  • Tax advice – make sure you get tax advice. A good accountant will immediately start saving you money, helping you to realistically budget, and often give you the essential tools to carefully bookkeep.
  • Legal documents – legal documents are key in many businesses, be it terms with clients, partnership agreements if joining with someone, or investment agreements if taking on investment monies. Friends and family may help but always consider that all arrangement should be in writing to cover all parties if it goes wrong, if you fall out, or a third party enters the scene.

Hiring employees

If you are looking to employ someone you can make them initially self-employed or an employee? Self-employed staff are liable for their own tax, are not entitled to the same benefits, such as holiday pay or pension rights, and you can let them go with notice and with little recourse if you later don’t need their services.

You can also set commission-only fees so they have to generate an income for you before they get paid. This arrangement can always help if you need to have a trial period or if cash flow is tight when starting out.

That said, employees can develop with you and the business and can become an integral part to help you grow. Investing in the right people can make a huge difference. They do however have protective rights, so make sure you understand these commitments – holiday and sickness pay, pension contributions, statutory and contractual notice periods and rights. Make sure you provide a detailed contract to ensure you are both clear on terms going forward.

My five golden rules for business mums

As a business mum I have been through it all, good and bad, but at the end of the day having a career and a wonderful family was worth the challenges.

Increasingly, my team and I are advising more and more mums not returning to work and setting up on their own (and dads too). I believe the reason small businesses are popping up all around is because people want more job satisfaction and flexibility – which is sometimes hard to achieve if you work for a large company.

If I were going to advise anyone on how to balance family life with business I would say there are five golden rules:

  1. Surround yourself with good people – you need good people in both your business private life, so you can discuss, trust and confide in them. Having a good accountant and lawyer means you can take practical and professional advice to help your business succeed. Also having a parent, sibling, spouse or friend to moan at, challenge your ideas and tell you you’re not a bad parent for working late makes life possible;
  2. Make time for family – always make time for the family whether it is putting the children to bed, taking a day off in the month to go someplace special, or a date night once a week. Otherwise work overtakes life and before you know it your children have grown up and your partner has lost sight of why they were with you.
  3. Have fun – it’s also important to make time for fun away from work and the family otherwise you will no longer recognise yourself. I am a business owner, mum, wife, employer, but occasionally I need time to be a women who shops, enjoys a glass of wine or a gossip with my girl friends.
  4. Be good to others in your team – always remember how you felt as a working mum or dad, before you set up your own company. As an employer I allow mothers to work from home, job share and fathers to share maternity leave. I generally give all my staff longer holiday periods and flexible time. A happy work team means a happy environment to work in and therefore happy clients and customers.
  5. Set realistic goals – set yourself reasonable and achievable goals to focus your drive. Also to allow you time out when you need it. Burning yourself out is something I have witnessed many business owner, especially parents, do and as a result your business becomes like a job that you’re stuck in and you don’t enjoy. If you don’t enjoy your business and feel that you have not hit your targets it’s not only hard to thrive, but your family life will feel the stress and pressure and it can eat into that too.

And finally, what else should you be think about?

  • Have you updated your will as to who will look after your child should something go wrong?
  • Have you got life insurance or insurance if find yourself out of work?
  • Have you looked at whether your partner can share your maternity leave or benefit from parental leave?
  • Have you claimed your child credit allowance if applicable?
  • Can you apply for child vouchers for the nursery to save your tax?

If you need legal help and advice setting up your business visit the award-winning A City Law Firm (ACLF), ran by a successful working mum. ACLF also run regular Start Up Capsule networking events and seminars for owners seeking to meet like-minded professionals and experts.