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Thursday, 20 August 2015

Member Blog: How to develop a reusable maternity cover plan

By Michelle Gyimah - HR and Gender Equality Consultant, Equality Pays

Having a maternity cover plan in place makes good business sense for all employers. I’m going to take you through the things that you need to consider when arranging maternity cover. Once you’ve written your plan you can easily edit it to suit for each member of staff as you will have a template to start from. So what needs to go in your maternity cover plan?

Time off

One question that you need a rough answer to is how long the temporary cover will last. Women are entitled to up to 52 weeks off (the first two weeks are compulsory), but you cannot assume that they will take 52 weeks off. Now that shared parental leave is an option, you may find that she wants to share leave with her partner in one or two blocks at a time.

The key thing to remember is to talk to your team member about their plans. Having a baby is a life changing event and often it is hard for parents to know exactly what they will want to do. It’s best to plan for 52 weeks leave, but advise your maternity cover that the end date is flexible and could stop and start if their staff member is utilising shared parental leave.

Helpful tip – when asking about how much time they will take off, try not to pressure them for an answer. At this stage their maternity leave is what they plan to take, but as we all know plans can change. It’s a good idea to encourage them to talk to you about their plans and keep you updated, so that you have a rough idea of how long you need maternity cover for.

Review the job role

Quite often, when working in a role, it changes and develops over time and the job no longer matches up to the initial job description. It’s important to get an up to date and accurate picture of what the job actually requires. Getting this right will greatly increase the likelihood of hiring the right maternity cover.

Helpful tip - Involve your current pregnant staff member. No-one knows the job better than they do, so get them involved and take their input on board.

How will you recruit?

In-house- You may find that you have the expertise and capacity to recruit maternity cover internally. It could be used as a great development opportunity for the right person. As with all recruitment campaigns, ensure that the process is well advertised, transparent and fair.

Agency – You may decide that you have the budget to use a recruitment agency. Will you use a maternity cover specialist agency, an industry specific agency or one that you have used in the past and been happy with the results?

Do your research and speak to a few. Find one that fits not only your budget but your business expectations. If you are unsure who to use, ask around. Find out from your trusted business partners and groups for recommendations.

The DIY approach – This is where you decide to recruit externally but will run your own recruitment campaign. This option can be cheaper than hiring an agency but it will take up more of your time. You will need to plan your recruitment timetable, prepare your job advert, job description, decide where to advertise, set the dates for interview, handle correspondence, prepare for the interview, decide on the best candidate, take up references and organise induction and training. There is a lot to consider, so setting up your recruitment timetable is essential.

Helpful tip - Work backwards from the date that you need them to start. This makes it easier to see when you need to start the recruitment process in order to get your maternity cover started on time.

How you decide to recruit will depend on factors such as budget, time and industry norms. However you decide to do it, make sure that it is well thought out and that your decision making process is well documented.

Preparing for the interviews
As with all interviews, the aim is to find the candidate with the best skills for the job, so prepare your questions in advance.  This is where having talked to your team member and updating the job description will really help. There is nothing worse than asking questions at the interview that have no relevance to the job because you’ve used an outdated job description. Some employers get their staff to help set the questions and even sit on the panel as an observer (with no bearing on the final decision).

Deciding who gets the job should always be done using a strict criteria that is consistently applied to all the job candidates to avoid discrimination and accusations of unprofessional conduct.

Helpful tip - Develop a set of criteria to follow when reviewing interviewees' answers and coming to a decision. Always document your decisions and reasons in case you are asked for feedback.

Start date and handover
Once you’ve picked the right person for the job, you need to be clear on when they will start. It’s a good idea to aim for at least one week of overlap, so that your temporary cover can work alongside and ask questions from your pregnant team member.

Helpful tip: Get your team member to put together a handover pack with useful information about their job, client accounts, and important dates to remember.

Those are the most important factors that you need to consider when planning for maternity cover.

Helpful tip – Create your maternity cover plan document and keep it in a safe and accessible place. Once you have these written down you can use it again for a new member of staff and just edit it accordingly.

Trying to organise cover can seem daunting, but having a plan in place makes it much easier and less stressful for employers.

For more information, contact Michelle Gyimah, HR and Gender Equality Consultant via or visit

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