I applied for a new position in a public sector organisation, not long after finding out I was pregnant. As you do with your first, I wanted a calm pregnancy. No stress and no travel, just clock in, work hard and clock out. It was a bottom rung job, processing numbers, dull, poorly paid, but would keep things ticking over.
My line manager was great during my pregnancy, I got a lot of support and was allowed to take time off when I needed it. I was given extended breaks…an extra 5mins to give me time to visit the loo and get a snack! I even finished work earlier than planned due to placenta previa.
As I was already pregnant went I started the job I knew I wouldn’t receive maternity pay. Receiving instead statutory maternity allowance, which I had to apply for via the job centre. Things were going to be very tight, but I was prepared for that.
Everything was going pretty well, the work was mind numbingly boring, but I had other things to concentrate on. So when the time came to leave work my attention was focused on my health and preparing for my sons arrival.
A couple of months into my maternity leave and after my son had been born I became aware that they had continued to pay me wages that I hadn’t earned. Being the type of person I am I contacted HR to notify them. I was told they would look into it, but obviously I’d have to repay what I’d received. I understood this, though paying money into the bank account of someone who was on maternity leave, receiving very little supplementary income, was beginning to give me nightmares.
I heard nothing back from HR and the monthly payment continued to come, with payments going directly into my pension fund, student loan and using my National Insurance allowance up. Every month I’d call HR to notify them what was happening and the following month nothing would have changed.
On reflection, perhaps I should have set up a savings account and moved the money into it every month, hindsight is an amazing thing, but I was tired and struggling to get to grips with sleepless nights, breastfeeding and financial burdens. All the while knowing that the money sat in my bank account was gradually being dipped into. I was upset and ashamed.
The issue of my pay wasn’t actually dealt with until I returned to work. I really had to push to get it resolved. Letters in the post eventually came demanding repayment. Letters that were worded in such a way that made me feel as though I had been in the wrong. I had to repay the money in full. I lost a large percentage of my national insurance contribution and had to repay money that had automatically gone to towards my student loan. Worse still I received no apology for the stress and upset they had caused me.
The final kick in the teeth was hearing from another member of staff, who had also recently returned from maternity leave, that she had also continued to receive her wages throughout her maternity leave. The only difference being that she had decided not to notify HR, ‘it was their mistake and not hers’ and they never discovered the mistake. I imagine her maternity leave was a lot less stressful and far more comfortable.
I’m an honest person. I know I did the right thing notifying HR, after all I was working in the public sector and it was tax payers money. What upset me most was the way the matter was dealt with, the lack of care or concern, but ultimately the personal and financial stress it put me under during the first few months of my son’s life.
Processes and support for women on maternity leave have to be improved, if the Public Sector can’t get it right what hope is there for the Private Sector?