Business Agony Aunt

Ask Ronke Lawal: Should A One-Man Business Give Paid Maternity Leave To Employee?


Got a question about your business or career? Welcome to our new Business & Career Agony Aunt Column, Ronke Lawal is here to advise you. Please send questions


I started a small business with my sister for over two years now and we have managed to reduce our expenses by being the only two staff. Some months ago my sister went back to school for a master’s degree, so we decided to employ one person to work temporarily for 18 months to cover for my sister’s absence. After a careful selection, we employed a young lady.
It has been four months since we employed her now and after taking several days off work for being sick, she recently told me she is four months pregnant. I don’t have a problem with her being pregnant, but the problem is that as a small business owner, I can’t afford to pay another staff for the three months that she will be away for maternity leave, considering she will also be paid all through her maternity leave. Will it be okay to let her go and employ someone else or should I tell her that I can’t afford to pay her during maternity leave? Am I obligated to pay her at all considering it is a temporary employment for 18 months and we didn’t talk about maternity leave at all in her offer letter?

Ronke Lawal Answers:

This is an interesting question which I am sure many small business owners are faced with. Your issue here is that there seems to be no contract of employment which may cause problems if you do not handle this correctly. As she is a temporary member of staff your obligations regarding full maternity leave payment may well be different compared to if she were permanent however you will need to seek professional legal advice for this issue. I would most definitely not sack her for this as it could come back to bite you as unfair dismissal. The key lesson here is in future cover all bases when employing any member of staff.

I am not a legal expert and every countries rules are different however in the UK there are mandatory guidelines in place. Here’s a summary that I found on an employment law site:

Maternity leave takes place for either 26 weeks or 52 weeks. Statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance, depending on the qualification of the employee, will expire after 39 weeks. This is a common period when employees state their intention to return to work.

All employers are entitled to a refund of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Statutory Maternity Allowance (SMA), whichever applies, through their payroll, which is at a rate of 92%. Very small employers can claim up to 104% of the money expended on SMP or SMA.

Treating the employee’s pregnancy as an event rather than a burden creates many benefits, such as a motivated workplace, not only for the employee concerned, but for all staff members.

Treating an employee’s pregnancy as an imposition will create a negative effect. If mishandled, this could lead to an employment tribunal claim for breach of maternity provisions and also quite possibly for sex discrimination.

I have also learnt that in Nigeria women in government or private sector employment were entitled to 12 weeks maternity leave with full pay irrespective of their status and the number of babies delivered. – See more here  This may mean that you will have to pay your employee.

Again I remind you that you will need to seek legal advice for this and I would encourage you not to fire your employee. It may be a financial hit but you will need to find a way to cover this, even if it means that your sister has to contribute financially in some way or at least return to work part time.


Ronke Lawal was born in Hackney, East London of Nigerian parentage. Having graduated with honours from Lancaster University and the University of Richmond Virginia (USA) with a degree in International Business (Economics), she started her own business in 2004. In 2011 Ronke Lawal was honoured to receive a Precious Award for Inspirational Leadership. In January 2010, Ronke became the Chief Executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce where she remained until the end of 2012 and became a non-executive director of The Hoxton Apprentice in 2011. She joined the board of Trustees of Voluntary Action Islington in 2012 and is currently on The Employers Panel for the National Employment Savings Trust She is a passionate business woman running RSL Management Services and the Simone Williams fashion label.  Apart from her active and involved business interests, her varied passions outside the business world include food, travel, music, literature and most importantly living a life she loves.




    Lara Aromire

    May 2, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    This is a tough one here, what exactlyy does your company say about maternity leave for temporary worker. If that is not covered in the policy, what does the employment contract say about the staff’s status. If it is not stated in any of your policies you might have to pay her for maternity leave.

    Because she is temporary, it might be easy to relieve her of her duties but please check with an employment/labour laws expert so that you don’t burn yourself.



    May 19, 2014 at 2:26 am

    Forget that garbage.
    You made the mistake of hiring someone who isn’t able to handle the necessary responsibility. Fire her and hired someone reliable for the position.

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