Countdown to shared parental leave: are YOU ready?
As D-Day approaches for enforcement of key legislation, experts from CMI and Mumsnet offer their thoughts on the scheme
New mums and dads will be able to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child from 1 December. Women must still take off the first two weeks post-birth, but after that can go back to work and allow their partner to take full-time care of the child. In effect, this means parents can even take leave at the same time.
Additionally, both parties will be entitled to 39 weeks of statutory pay, equivalent to £138.18 per week, and the government hopes the reforms will allow for more flexibility for parents. Employers are being given some time to adjust to the changes: although participants can start applying for leave now, it cannot be taken until April 2015. This is particularly important, as bosses are powerless to reject an employee from taking leave, if both the worker and partner meet key eligibility criteria, such as being employed for a certain period of time.
Only if the employee asks for intermittent or discontinuous leave – whereby they take a month off, return to work and request further leave – can the employer reject requests for paternity leave. Furthermore, staff are restricted to a maximum of three separate applications.
From a management perspective, small- and medium-sized businesses may face some administrative issues – especially if the take-up rate is high – but in general many bosses are welcoming to paternity leave and the diversity it could bring to the workplace. Chartered Management Institute (CMI) head of external affairs Patrick Woodman said: “This is a welcome move that will help change workplace culture, with women able to better share the responsibility for children with partners.
“It will help increase diversity and provide greater flexibility and, in addition to helping families find a better balance, it should also help employers reduce the loss of valuable employees and key skills."
A recent survey from Linklaters law firm found that more than 70% of men and women were interested in the scheme, and the government hopes it will help eliminate the “motherhood penalty” revealed in the last week’s Office for National Statistics report, which showed that women were having to delay starting a family in order to close the gender pay gap.
One of the biggest obstacles for the scheme, however is likely to be the issue of enhanced pay. That could prove to be a sticking point for many young fathers, as employers have no obligation to offer anything but statutory terms – which many experts criticise for being too low. Meanwhile, in the case of maternity leave, many large companies offer pay which is close mothers’ normal salary. Whether similar packages will be offered to men is unclear.
Mumsnet chief executive Justine Roberts said: “It’s good to see the importance of fathers in babies’ lives being recognised but in practice, we're not yet getting basic paternity leave right. It ought to enable dads to spend time with their new babies, but because of the woefully low rate at which it’s paid, they’re forced to take annual leave or miss out altogether.”
The evidence appears to back Roberts up. Woodman added: “Our research with XpertHR shows that there’s still a 23% gender pay gap between men and women in management roles, so while this change in the rules is welcome, uptake by fathers may be limited while pay levels remain so imbalanced.”