Recent reports have indicated that only a small number of fathers are taking advantage of their new rights to take more time off upon the arrival of a new baby, or when a child is adopted. The introduction of shared parental leave, introduced for babies born or adopted on or after April 5th 2015, means that mothers and fathers no longer need to stick to the traditional structure of statutory maternity and paternity leave and could instead take leave flexibly.
However figures show that the take up of fathers taking shared parental is not high. Its predecessor, additional paternity leave, was only taken by around 2 per cent of eligible employees. So what is stopping men from using their extra entitlement to time off, over and above their entitlement to two weeks’ paternity leave, when a child is born or adopted?
Many mothers look forward to the time off work that accompanies having a baby. Although far from a holiday, having 12 months’ leave to bed into their new role of being a mother, or to become used to managing with an extra child, is often welcomed. It may be the case that the mother is unwilling to give up any of this time so that the father can take time off work because this will generally mean she must return to work. The availability of keeping in touch (KIT) days means that the mother can still go to work on a number of occasions throughout maternity leave so that the eventual return to work is not such a shock to the system. This can encourage mothers to take the maximum amount of time off and keep it for themselves.
Money is another reason why men may be deterred from taking a long time off work. Unless the employer offers a contractual pay scheme during shared parental leave which is in excess of the current legal minimum statutory payment and more similar to that of their normal wage, the father will only be paid £139.58 per week (the current rate). In families where the father is the main earner, this may represent an impossibly large drop in pay.
Offering contractual pay in excess of the statutory minimum is one way of potentially increasing the uptake of shared parental leave by fathers. This will, obviously, affect an employer’s bottom line and therefore may not be favourable.
Alternatively, increasing awareness in an organisation of shared parental leave may be the first place to start. The entitlement is still relatively new in terms of current ‘family friendly’ law and fathers may simply not know that they are able, by law, to take any leave in excess of their two weeks’ paternity leave. Employers can address this by implementing a shared parental leave policy and ensuring that all employees are aware of it. It should refer to the fact that employment is protected for all employees taking shared parental leave; a return to work is guaranteed from the employer’s perspective.
Having good communication channels about employees’ rights in certain situations may operate to instil into all employees that the employer is aware of the demands in the personal lives of its employees and is willing to work with them rather than against them. In turn, this will help to breed engagement and loyalty amongst the workforce. A happy workforce is a more productive workforce.
Alan Price is employment law director of Peninsula.