Hiring to fill a parental leave spot? Part 1

Our top tips for making sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

Part 1

First off – the discussion with your pregnant employee.

Before you can even plan for the replacement employee, you first need to uncover a whole lot of information from your departing employee.

Yes, it’s important to know the law (both your obligations as a business owner and the rights of your pregnant employee) but you can find most of that information out here. What’s trickier, is how to apply the law and maintain good working relationships with your workers. We recommend that you practice having open and honest discussions with your employee, particularly as you’re bound to have a few more of those when you help them transition back into the workplace post baby. So in an initial meeting, when you’re starting to plan to hire a replacement employee, it’s important to ask a lot of questions.

The following questions will give you more information about the departing employee’s plans and what is needed to fulfil the role, such as:

  • I know you won’t be able to provide me with absolutely certainty until after your baby is born, but what are you thinking now about how much time you would like to take off in the lead up to and after the birth?
  • Why is it that you think that amount of time off will work for you and your family? [This question is to reality-check the answer, particularly if the employee has indicated a very short parental leave timeframe. It can also help you gather information about how the employee is planning on sharing the load with their partner]
  • When you’re ready to return, how are you planning on returning i.e. part-time, flexible work arrangements such as working from home or reduced hours in the office? [it is important at this stage that you again reality check answers – for instance, many employees believe pre-baby that they can work with a baby present and even juggle breastfeeding and taking client calls. Your job at this stage is not to respond but just to get a better sense of where your employee’s head is at so you can consider everything carefully post-meeting and plan how to respond later]
  • How do you think we would be best to cover your role during your parental leave? [your departing employee has most likely considered this question already so you may as well get some insight from them – however you don’t have to agree with their suggestions, you’re merely asking for their input at this stage]
  • We’d love your input about what type of person you think would be best to replace you during this time, considering skills, experience and qualifications as well as team fit and culture?
  • Would you like to be a part of the hiring process and assist us with the interviewing? [NB: whilst it’s best practice to include a departing employee in this process, they shouldn’t be given the key role in making the hire / decision. You, the business owner or senior executive should make the final call and be involved throughout to ensure that the best person is hired for the role and that good people aren’t turned away just because your departing employee is feeling anxious or insecure because of competition]
  • Do you have any sense of how long it may take us to find this replacement person in the current recruitment market or do you know anyone suitable? [this information may help you plan for the recruitment phase]
  • Do you think your current position description is reflective of what you do? And if not (or if you don’t have one in place) can you please help us create a list of your key tasks and duties?

Your action items: after this meeting, write down all of the answers and discussion points and put it into a typed up file note. Reflect on the information and assess whether you need any further information (often you will after you’ve allowed for everything to sink in). Next, summarise your file note into an email and send it on to your employee, asking them to confirm that this is their understanding of the discussion, and requesting that they answer any follow up questions by the end of the week.

What you should now know: 

  • when your departing employee is planning on finishing up
  • how long your departing employee is planning to be on leave for
  • in what capacity they’d like to return to work (i.e. part-time etc)
  • your departing employee’s thoughts about who should replace them and whether that person should be working full-time or less and what skills, experiences and qualifications they should have
  • the departing employee’s interest in helping you find a replacement (NB: if they’re not very interested it may be because they’re not intending to return to the workplace)
  • the departing employee’s understanding of the relevant job market and an indication of how long you may need to spend trying to find a suitable person
  • whether the departing employee has any contacts or potential candidates
  • whether the position description needs updating to reflect current tasks and duties

If you can’t answer yes to all of the above, then you can focus your efforts on finding out the answers (from your departing employee or elsewhere) to put you in the best possible position to then recruit.

What next?

In Part 2 of this series, we will go through the legalities and communication strategies (internal and external) when advertising the role as a parental leave replacement and the top things you need to address to protect the business from risk and liability.

How we can help your business

We can help your business with the following:

  • Help you through a discrimination, unfair dismissal or general protections (adverse action) claim
  • Help you implement or refuse flexible work arrangements in the best interests of the business and operational requirements
  • Draft fixed-term contracts for your maternity leave replacement
  • Draft a policy on flexible work to set parameters for employees and guidance for managers about how to handle flexible work practices in your business
  • Anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying training to fulfil your Work Health and Safety obligations and help your employees resolve things internally (to reduce the risk of a claim and minimise any harmful behaviour in your business)

Call us today to discuss your workplace needs on 03 9111 5660 or book a free 15-min chat here to talk with one of our solicitors.

This is general advice only. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation. 

Published Jan 22, 2018

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