Shared Parental Leave – are HR managers prepared for modern working dads?

Next month, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) takes effect for parents of babies due on or after 5 April 2015 and parents of a child placed for adoption on or after that date.  It will allow new parents more flexibility in terms of which parent takes leave and when in the 52 weeks after birth/adoption. It sounds simple, but the detail is far more complex and its impact could catch employers out if more ‘dads’ take up the opportunity to have increased child rearing responsibilities in the first year after birth/adoption.

According to employment lawyers at top ten Scottish law firm, Morton Fraser one of the most interesting issues surrounding the introduction of SPL will be whether the new measures help reduce discrimination against women of child bearing age, and challenge traditional stereotypes in the workplace.

Under SPL, parents will, subject to various eligibility criteria, have different options in terms of exercising the right, allowing them to take the approach which is financially and practically most appropriate for their circumstances. It will be possible for the mother to return to work and the father to then take the remainder of the 52 week leave entitlement, or for the parents to share the remainder of the leave.  Where the mother is the higher earner it may make financial sense for her to return to work, with the childcare provided by the father for the remainder of what would have been the mother's maternity leave. Some employers offer enhanced maternity pay in excess of the minimum statutory maternity pay and intend to mirror this in relation to shared parental pay.  In such cases there may be a financial benefit for the parent with entitlement to enhanced shared parental pay rights to take leave, with the other parent returning to work.  

Jillian Paton, an associate with Morton Fraser’s employment team, explains:

“Although the concept of Shared Parental Leave is simple, being that the mother gives notice to end her maternity leave early and the mother and father can then share what would have been the remainder of her maternity leave, the detail is far more complex.  There are fears that the complexity of the provisions will catch out small employers, lead to confusion over entitlement and actually put parents off contemplating accessing the right to shared parental leave. 

“In addition, some commentators take the view that whilst the availability of shared parental leave is to be welcomed, in reality it is likely to make little difference to the current position, particularly when the low take-up for additional paternity leave (the predecessor of shared parental leave) is considered.  Having said that, the flexibility of shared parental leave may make it more attractive to parents.

“Whether the new provisions will genuinely empower fathers, or simply create headaches for both employers and employees remains to be seen.  There is a strong argument that the provisions would be more empowering if they were more accessible for both employers and employees.  It seems likely that shared parental leave will, in one guise or another, remain a popular concept given that it does allow families more choice over care for their child and could, potentially, reduce discrimination against women of child bearing age.  However whether it survives in its current format longer than the previous additional paternity leave provisions (which came into effect in April 2011 and will cease to have effect in April 2015) remains to be seen.”

Notes to Editor:

Ÿ   Morton Fraser operates throughout the UK from offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow, employing over 270 people.

Ÿ   The firm offers commercial and private client legal services to businesses, the public sector, families and individuals

Ÿ   Morton Fraser clients include BAA (now Heathrow Airport Holdings), Diageo, Royal Mail Group, The Ministry of Defence, Transport Scotland, Tesco and Scottish Canals.

Ÿ   www.morton-fraser.com

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it does allow families more choice over care for their child and could, potentially, reduce discrimination against women of child bearing age
Jillian Paton