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Working Moms, Know Your Rights!

Working momFortunately, much has changed for the modern South African working mom and many organisations are a lot more flexible in helping mothers to meet the demands that are regularly faced by the working mom. The fact is how many mothers actually know their rights and know what is fair and legal in the working world?

What’s more, why are so many South African companies reluctant to hire mothers! Even though working moms are protected by the Labour Law, there are a large number of organisations who are thinking twice about hiring mothers and their reasoning behind this decision is that -Working mothers are less committed. Working mothers are far less flexible. Working mothers’ skills are outdated and working mothers are going to take maternity leave as soon as you hire them!

In fact, a recent survey conducted by, showed that a staggering 69% of South African companies are not going to be hiring working mothers in 2011, even though our country’s Labour Law protects working moms against such acts of discrimination! To this end, many women who want to be -working’ moms will find that few companies are willing to take the risk and actually employ them!


The South African Labour Law

By far the SA Labour Law is one of the most protective and progressive in the world. Working mothers are protected under the South African Labour Law, which has made provisions for pregnant mothers (in terms of safe working conditions) maternity leave and for working mothers who are required to take time off work in order to care for a sick or unwell child. In the event that a child becomes ill, a parent (both mom and dad) is entitled to Family Responsibility Leave.

The law states that all full-time workers are permitted to take up to three days paid leave within a year (these days cannot be accumulated and the maximum period allowed is three days per year). The purpose of this leave is to allow workers to attend to any urgent family matters that may arise, including caring for sick children, or a father may apply for Family Responsibility Leave when a child is born.

Should Family Reasonability Leave be exhausted, a worker may then apply for annual leave in the event that their child takes ill (annual leave does not have to be granted). In cases where a worker’s annual leave allocation has been used up, the next step is to apply for unpaid leave, this leave is granted at the discretion of the employer.


Maternity leave

South Africa’s labour legislation is commonly referred to as being one of the most progressive labour laws in the world; however the fact is that although the laws are in place, there are companies who do not entirely agree with the provisions that have been set out by the law. For instance, a woman who is pregnant and seeking full-time employment, according to the South African labour legislation, is protected against bias and is not required to reveal that they are pregnant. This, however, may lead to a catch-22 situation! An employer will surely be inconvenienced by the woman’s intended absence but at the same time, if the woman reveals that she is pregnant, will the prospective employer still be willing to hire her?

The law states that pregnant job seekers are under no obligation to inform potential employers of their condition. In fact, legislation does not even stipulate at what time or when an employer needs to be notified of the pregnancy. What’s more, the Labour Relations Act of 1995, classifies that a dismissal of an employee due to a pregnancy, an intended pregnancy, or a reason which relates to pregnancy, as being automatically unfair.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act states the conditions of maternity leave are:
  • A woman is granted at least four consecutive months of maternity leave and maternity leave can commence at any time from four weeks before the expected date of birth, unless mutually agreed by both employer and employee, or on a date that a medical practitioner or a midwife has deemed necessary;
  • A mother is not allowed to work for six weeks after the birth of her child, unless a medical practitioner or midwife certifies that she is fit to;
  • Any woman who has suffered a miscarriage during the third trimester of pregnancy or bears a stillborn child is entitled to maternity leave for six weeks after the miscarriage or stillbirth, whether or not she had begun maternity leave at the time of the miscarriage or stillbirth;
  • Payment of maternity benefits are determined according to the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act, there are some companies, however who offer paid maternity leave to their employees. If this is the case, a worker is not able to claim UIF (unless a portion of her salary is not covered by her employer).


Shift in mindset

Many South African companies are beginning to realize that working moms are vital to their organization and even though 69% of SA companies are reluctant to employ moms, 31% of companies have found that working moms can get the job done and they can get the job done well. Moms are great at multi-tasking and because they know they are unable to work overtime, working moms tend to work smarter and use their working time more efficiently (often skipping lunch breaks, etc.).

Many companies have found that by offering childcare services on the premises, such as crèches, etc., working moms take off less time and they are also more committed to the company. Furthermore many organisations are prepared to allow moms to work flexible hours and even work from home (for a few hours a week).

Although the South African labour law is one of the most progressive in the world, employers are urged to change their mindset and rather than viewing working moms as a liability – see them as a valuable asset to the workforce. Moms are skilled at juggling and working moms are professionals at juggling childcare issues, child illnesses, pregnancies etc and are still able to commit themselves to their chosen career.


Tips for moms who plan to re-enter the workforce:

  • Keep up-to-date with the changes in the workforce. Find out about the latest computer software packages and find out what packages are currently being used;
  • Find out if any new skills are needed (it may be worthwhile to take a refresher course if you have been out of the workforce for a long period);
  • Attempt to build up a good support system before going back to work – try to establish feasible alternatives in the event that your child falls ill (a grandparent, etc);
  • Be aware of your rights as a working mom!


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