Human Resources 101: Hiring for maternity, developing an HR manual

By Alexandra McLean, Shannon Waller | June 25, 2007 | Last updated on June 25, 2007
4 min read

(June 2007) is pleased to welcome our new columnists, Alexandra McLean and Shannon Waller from The Strategic Coach. Human Resources 101 examines your experiences and answers your questions about HR and managing people.

Click here to send us your HR-related questions.

In this article: Hiring for maternity and developing an HR practices manual using provincial labour and employment standards.

Question: We are a small firm so you would think that there really are few HR issues. This is mostly true but maternity leave is the one situation we’re having trouble with. How does a small firm hire for a position when that person going on leave can’t or won’t inform you if they intend to return? We are required to leave the position open for the year. What does a firm do in the interim? Long-term hiring plans and training are all affected by the uncertainty.

Hiring for maternity

Hiring for a maternity leave can seem like a nightmare to some, but it can be an opportunity for growth and development for the team member taking leave and their co-workers alike. In our experience, team members returning from maternity (and paternity) leave come back more engaged and committed to their jobs. While it can be frustrating to be “kept in the dark” about their intentions, many new parents don’t know what their plans will be, which is why they don’t let you know. Remember, if an employee who is on pregnancy or parental leave decides they do not wish to return to work, they must provide you with at least four weeks’ written notice of their resignation.

If you plan for the leave in advance it will go much smoother. Sit down with the team member and find out what projects and deadlines are going to be completed before they leave and what will need to be covered off in their absence. Can another team member take on these duties? This could be an opportunity to do some cross-training. Ask the team member to create a step-by-step outline of how they perform their tasks. These lists are invaluable when training a new person.

We don’t tend to hire contract employees for the year but this might be the best solution for your company. If you choose to hire someone for a one-year contract, make sure you put them through the same recruiting process as any full-time team member. You don’t want to live with a “make do” new hire or any other rash decision that will make your year feel longer than necessary. You may find as we do that it makes the most sense to hire full-time permanent employees that are a good fit for your company and its culture. This way when the employee returns to work you can keep their replacement on staff to support your growth.

Question: How do you establish an HR manual and clear criteria to outline how many sick days employees are allowed, their start and end times each day and lunch hours?

HR manual

We recommend setting up a team policies binder, a set of guidelines for everything from dress code and appointment leave to vacation and maternity leave. To get started, refer to the government regulations for the specific areas to cover. For example, in Ontario you can visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour website to find information on vacation, sick days, hours of work, and many others ( Click here for more resources. However, remember that these regulations are only the minimum standard. You may decide to offer more as a way to attract and retain quality team members.

Most importantly, the manual must be concise, clear, accurate and written in everyday language that your team can understand. When you are writing the manual, write it as if the intended audience knows nothing about the topic, given that they may be new to your organization and coming from an environment that operates very differently than yours.

Take the opportunity to outline the hard facts about the rules, but also to discuss the company’s purpose, its intention, culture and its history. Tell your company’s “story.” It’s very compelling, and if you don’t do it here, it’s likely employees will never get the whole picture.

Also look at the medium you want to use to communicate your team policies. While standard printouts are adequate, they can be difficult to keep current. Depending on the size of your organization, you may find it worthwhile to invest in a staff website (Intranet). At the very least, keep some of your documents available in electronic format so they’re accessible at all times and easily updated.

Shannon Waller is a coach at The Strategic Coach. Alexandra McLean is The Strategic Coach’s human resources manager. Visit for more information.

Are you experiencing some personnel challenges in your practice? Send your questions to


Alexandra McLean, Shannon Waller