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Maternity and Parental Leave Legislation

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act sets the standards for the minimum terms and conditions of employment to be met by employers. When it comes to maternity, parental and other similar newly instituted leave geared for new parents, there is a glaring gap between legislation and that which will promote an employee centric organisation and protect the much-needed family-life balance.

While legislation takes care of the minimum requirements, many employees, mostly female, feel the pressure to return to the workplace without taking the minimum leave with is rightfully theirs to take. The reasons are two-fold. Firstly, there are the financial implications for new parents, particularly those in single parent family, if they work for an organisation which choses not to pay maternity leave.

Organisations are not required by law to pay employees their 4 months maternity leave, the are only required to allow the employee that period off. Reports show that a quarter of working women will go unpaid for the full 4 months and will be required to rely on South Africa’s ineffective Unemployment Insurance Fund which can often take longer than the maternity leave itself, just to pay out. When it does, what employers seldom realise, is that the UIF only pays a portion of the employees’ salary, not the full or even most of the salary. This results in financial pressure where families can least afford it.

For far too long, women have born the brunt of this responsibility but with global changes in workplace dynamics and acknowledgement that these social norms which require attention and ultimately to be addressed. Awareness of employers of the impact of maternity and parental leave on their staff is required. Awareness programs to educate employees with the goal of normalising maternity and parental leave as well as well-researched and transparent maternity and parental leave policies which highlight the importance thereof as well as protect the rights of a parent, would help parents feel supported in the workplace.

While South Africa’s maternity and parental leave legislation stands to be updated and addressed, there are still countries which leave employees worse off for being parents, while some countries simply excel in this regard. Organisations may at any time chose to implement policies which alleviate parental discrimination in their workplaces.