ALMOST one in four companies have cut back on paid maternity leave, forcing women to return to the workplace sooner than they want.
Experts have warned that the tradition of paid leave is "not a given anymore" as employers use the recession to row back on benefits.
A survey by Principle HR in 2008 found 50pc of employers were paying women their full salary while on maternity leave.
However, a new version carried out for the Irish Independent this week shows this has now dropped to just 37pc.
Families face further financial pressure with a new tax on the state maternity benefit from July, meaning women will lose out on up to €2,700.
A host of changes are now pushing new mothers back into the workplace quicker, including:
* A reduction in paid maternity leave from full-pay to half-pay, or scrapping it altogether.
* 'Clawback' policies whereby a woman must return to her employer for a set period of time or else pay back all her maternity pay.
* Stricter criteria to qualify for paid maternity leave, including being with an employer for longer.
The Principle survey found that one in four employers have cut back on paid maternity leave since the start of the recession.
Since 2008, 17pc of employers have reduced the amount they pay while 7pc have stopped paying it altogether.
Audrey Hughes, director of Principle HR, said paid maternity leave was "not a given anymore", even among larger companies.
"A lot of them have certainly dropped it, especially for smaller businesses who are saying they can't afford to pay it or top it up," she added.
Employers say they can no longer afford to pay for maternity leave as they struggle to keep costs down.
Mark Fielding, chief executive of ISME, said the majority of small businesses do not pay women on maternity leave, as they must pay for their replacements.
"When companies are taking on new staff, that clause (paid maternity leave) is being taken out."
Anne Lyne, employment solicitor with Hayes Solicitors, said there was no requirement on employers to provide paid maternity leave.