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The Empuls Glossary

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Maternity leave is a period of absence from work granted to a mother before and after the birth of her child. It is a crucial component of employee benefits that allows mothers to recover from childbirth, bond with their newborn, and adjust to the demands of parenthood without the worry of losing their job or income.

Maternity leave plays a significant role in supporting gender equality in the workplace by providing women with the necessary time and resources to balance their professional and personal responsibilities during this significant life event.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is a type of leave that mothers or birthing parents typically take shortly before and after giving birth. In some cases, it applies when adopting a child too. Maternity leave is defined in local employment law and differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It may be paid, unpaid, or paid in part.

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When should I apply for a maternity leave?

Here are some general guidelines to consider:

  • Review company policies: Start by reviewing your employer's maternity leave policies and procedures. Your company's human resources department or employee handbook should provide information on eligibility criteria, required documentation, and the process for requesting maternity leave.
  • Check legal requirements: Familiarize yourself with any legal requirements or protections related to maternity leave in your country or region. Some countries mandate certain maternity leave benefits or protections for pregnant employees, such as the right to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the United States.
  • Plan ahead: Consider applying for maternity leave well in advance of your expected due date to allow sufficient time for processing and planning. Discuss your maternity leave plans with your supervisor or manager as early as possible to ensure a smooth transition and adequate coverage for your responsibilities.
  • Consider health and pregnancy needs: Take into account your health and any pregnancy-related considerations when determining the timing of your maternity leave. If you are experiencing medical complications or require additional time off before your due date, discuss your options with your healthcare provider and employer.
  • Notify your employer: Once you have determined the timing for your maternity leave, formally notify your employer in writing according to their established procedures. Provide details such as your expected due date, the anticipated start date of your leave, and any relevant documentation required.
  • Discuss return-to-work plans: As part of your maternity leave planning, discuss your return-to-work plans with your employer. Clarify expectations regarding the duration of your leave, any transitional arrangements or accommodation needed upon your return, and your availability for communication during your absence.
  • Keep lines of communication open: Throughout the maternity leave process, maintain open communication with your employer, supervisor, and colleagues. Stay informed about any updates or changes to company policies or procedures that may affect your leave or return-to-work plans.
  • Seek support: Don't hesitate to seek support from your human resources department, employee assistance program, or other resources available through your employer. They can provide guidance, assistance, and resources to help you navigate the maternity leave process effectively.

Why is maternity leave important for a mother and her newborn?

The reasons why maternity leave is important for a mother and her newborn are:

1. Bonding and attachment:

Maternity leave provides crucial time for mothers to bond with their newborns and establish a strong emotional attachment. This bonding period is essential for promoting healthy infant development and nurturing secure parent-child relationships.

2. Breastfeeding support:

Maternity leave allows mothers to establish breastfeeding routines and receive necessary support and guidance. Breastfeeding offers many health benefits for newborns, including reduced risk of infections, allergies, and chronic diseases, and promotes optimal growth and development.

3. Physical recovery:

Childbirth is a physically demanding experience, and maternity leave allows mothers adequate time to recover physically from the birthing process. Rest and recuperation are essential for healing from childbirth-related injuries, fatigue, and discomfort.

4. Emotional well-being:

Maternity leave supports mothers' emotional well-being by providing time for adjustment, relaxation, and self-care. The postpartum period can be emotionally challenging, with hormonal fluctuations, sleep disturbances, and feelings of stress or overwhelm. Maternity leave offers a buffer against these stressors and promotes maternal mental health and resilience.

5. Promoting parental involvement:

Maternity leave encourages greater involvement of fathers and partners in caregiving and parenting responsibilities. Shared parental leave policies allow fathers to take time off work to support their partners, bond with their newborns, and actively participate in caregiving activities, fostering equal parenting roles and responsibilities.

6. Reducing stress and anxiety:

Maternity leave helps reduce stress and anxiety for new mothers by providing financial security, job protection, and peace of mind. Knowing that they have time off work to focus on caring for their newborns alleviates concerns about balancing work and family responsibilities and allows mothers to prioritize their own and their baby's needs.

7. Promoting long-term health and well-being:

Maternity leave supports long-term health outcomes for both mothers and babies. Research has shown that adequate maternity leave durations are associated with lower rates of maternal postpartum depression, improved breastfeeding duration and exclusivity, and better infant health outcomes, including reduced infant mortality rates.

8. Facilitating parental leave transition:

Maternity leave serves as a transitional period for parents adjusting to their new roles and responsibilities. It allows time for parents to acclimate to the demands of caring for a newborn, establish routines, seek support, and navigate the challenges of parenthood.

How does maternity leave impact a women’s career progression?

Here are some ways in which maternity leave may impact a woman's career progression:

1. Temporary interruption:

Maternity leave represents a temporary interruption in a woman's career trajectory. During this time, she may be out of the workforce or working reduced hours, which can affect her ability to take on new projects, responsibilities, or leadership roles.

2. Skills and experience gap:

Extended periods away from work can result in a skills and experience gap for women returning from maternity leave. Rapid advancements in technology or changes within the industry may require additional training or reintegration efforts to catch up with developments during their absence.

3. Perceived commitment:

Taking maternity leave may lead to perceptions of decreased commitment or dedication to work, particularly if there is a cultural or organizational bias against working mothers. These perceptions could potentially impact opportunities for advancement or access to high-profile projects or assignments.

4. Networking and visibility:

While on maternity leave, women may have limited opportunities for networking and maintaining visibility within their organization. Missing out on important meetings, events, or informal interactions with colleagues and supervisors could affect their professional connections and visibility within the workplace.

5. Career planning and development:

Maternity leave may prompt women to reassess their career goals, priorities, and aspirations. Some women may choose to shift their focus towards achieving a better work-life balance or pursuing alternative career paths that align with their values and personal circumstances.

6. Supportive work environment:

The level of support and flexibility offered by employers during maternity leave can significantly influence a woman's experience and career trajectory. Employers that provide supportive policies, such as flexible work arrangements, phased return-to-work programs, and mentorship opportunities, may help mitigate some of the negative impacts of maternity leave on career progression.

7. Resilience and adaptability:

Successfully navigating the challenges of maternity leave and returning to work can demonstrate resilience, adaptability, and leadership potential. Women who effectively manage the transition back to work may develop valuable skills and attributes that contribute to their long-term career success.

How can companies support employees returning from maternity leave?

The ways companies can support employees returning from maternity leave are:

  • Flexible work arrangements: Offer flexible work arrangements such as part-time schedules, telecommuting options, flexible hours, or job-sharing arrangements to help returning employees balance work and family responsibilities.
  • Phased return-to-work: Allow returning employees to gradually transition back to full-time work through a phased return-to-work plan. This could involve initially working reduced hours or gradually increasing the workload and responsibilities over time.
  • Lactation support: Provide designated lactation rooms or nursing facilities equipped with comfortable seating, privacy screens, and access to electrical outlets for breast pumping. Offer flexible break times and supportive policies for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Parental leave policies: Offer inclusive parental leave policies that provide equal benefits and support for both mothers and fathers. Encourage fathers to take paternity leave to support their partners and bond with their newborns.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): Offer access to employee assistance programs that provide counseling, support services, and resources to help employees manage stress, balance work and family life, and address personal or parenting challenges.
  • Flexible leave policies: Offer additional leave options, such as unpaid leave, extended parental leave, or the ability to use accrued paid time off (e.g., vacation days, sick leave) for family-related purposes, to accommodate unexpected caregiving needs or family emergencies.
  • Employee resource groups (ERGs): Establish employee resource groups or affinity groups for working parents to provide a supportive network, share experiences, and offer resources and advice on balancing work and family life.
  • Childcare assistance: Provide information and resources on childcare options, subsidies, or employer-sponsored childcare programs to help employees find reliable and affordable childcare arrangements.
  • Manager training: Provide training and support for managers to effectively manage employees returning from maternity leave, including communication strategies, sensitivity training, and guidance on accommodating work-life balance needs.
  • Regular check-ins: Schedule regular check-in meetings between returning employees and their managers to discuss workload, progress, challenges, and any adjustments needed to support a successful return to work.
  • Recognition and appreciation: Recognize and appreciate returning employees for their contributions and commitment to the organization. Acknowledge their transition back to work and celebrate milestones, achievements, and accomplishments.

How to apply for a maternity leave?

Here's a general guide on how to apply for maternity leave:  

1. Review your company's policies:

Familiarize yourself with your company's maternity leave policies outlined in the employee handbook or provided by HR. This will give you information about how much leave you're entitled to, whether it's paid or unpaid, and any other requirements or procedures.

2. Notify your employer:  

Inform your supervisor or HR department about your pregnancy and your intention to take maternity leave. This notification is typically done in writing and should be done well before your planned leave to allow for proper arrangements.

3. Fill out required forms:  

Your employer may have specific forms or paperwork for you to fill out to formally request maternity leave. These forms may include information about the dates you plan to start and end your leave, any medical documentation required, and how you want to handle benefits during your absence.

4. Provide medical documentation:  

Depending on your company's policies, you may need to provide medical documentation from your healthcare provider confirming your pregnancy and expected due date. This documentation helps to verify the need for maternity leave.

5. Understand your benefits:  

Make sure you understand how your benefits will be affected during your maternity leave, including whether you'll continue to receive pay, how your health insurance will be handled, and any other benefits you may be entitled to.

6. Plan for your absence:  

Work with your supervisor and colleagues to plan for your absence during maternity leave. This may involve delegating tasks, training temporary replacements, or documenting important information for whoever will be covering your responsibilities.

7. Stay in communication:  

Keep in touch with your employer and HR department throughout your maternity leave to ensure a smooth transition back to work. Stay informed about any updates or changes that may occur while you're away.

8. Know your rights:  

Familiarize yourself with your rights under relevant employment laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the United States or similar laws in other countries. These laws may provide additional protections and benefits during maternity leave.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

How long is maternity leave?  

Here’s a detailed look at how long maternity leave is in different contexts:

  • India: According to the maternity benefit (Amendment) act 2017, expectant women in India are entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave. This leave can start up to 8 weeks before the due date. However, this provision applies only for the first two pregnancies. If a woman is expecting her third child, then she is entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave.
  • United States: In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth of a newborn or adopting a child4. However, not all employees are eligible for this leave.
  • Private sector companies: Apart from the standard maternity leave stipulated by law, private sector companies in some countries have the option to provide extended maternity leave as a benefit to their female employees.
  • Adoptive mothers: The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 in India grants 12 weeks of maternity leave to women who lawfully adopt a child below three months of age.
  • Work from home: The 2017 amendment to the Act in India provides that an employer can permit a woman to work from home during pregnancy if the nature of work is such that it can be done from home.

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