On Father’s Day we show our appreciation of fathers past, present and future. A father’s role in the nuclear family is equally as important as the mother, however the take up of shared parental leave in the UK is at an all time low. The Department for Business believes only 2% of couples welcoming a new child share the responsibility of caring for the child during the first year of its life.
Current rules on shared parental leave
Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. This applies to birth and adoptive parents and same sex couples, married or unmarried. Shared parental leave is designed to be flexible so you can take it in blocks separated by time at work or all in one go. Parents can also choose to take the leave together so they’re both there for the child for an extended period of time. The government policy has been designed to offer families flexibility and create happier, more productive employees with a better work life balance.
So why do so few families take up the option?
Mediocre rates of pay
Under current policy the father or partner only qualifies for statutory pay during their time off with their new child. This only equates to around £150 per week. When you consider the mediocre rate of pay on offer the low take up rate becomes more understandable. Families stand to lose out financially during what’s likely to be an expensive time. For many couples, it’s just not viable.
Whilst companies are not obliged to pay above statutory rates, companies that can afford to offer higher rates of pay to the partner or father would likely see an increase in take up of shared parental leave.
An interesting case
Earlier this year, an employment tribunal was heard based on an employer’s maternity and shared parental leave policies. The male claimant felt it was discriminatory that he was only offered the option of shared parental leave on statutory pay, whereas his wife qualified for maternity leave on full pay.
The tribunal dismissed the claim because they did not feel the two were comparable. Following an appeal, the decision was overturned and the case was submitted for re-hearing. We await the outcome with interest.
Lack of awareness and understanding
Many parents are unaware of their right to share parental leave with their partner. It is up to employers to understand how it works and make the option available to new parents. Organisations should provide information to parents as part of maternity and paternity leave discussions and policy.
If you are unsure of your organisation’s responsibilities in this area, or you do not have a shared parental leave policy, please contact our experts for assistance.
Despite gender inequality being high profile in the media, there is still a cultural stigma attached to men caring for children. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the take-up figures to see whether they favour male/female or same sex partnerships, if at all.
The option of paternity leave has been available since 2003, yet this is still only set at two weeks after the birth of the child. Is this really enough time to bond with your baby, settle them into a routine and get used to the new responsibilities of being a parent, not to mention the lack of sleep? There is an argument that paternity leave should mirror maternity leave at full pay for 4-6 weeks.
Employers must play their part
Fathers under pressure to work long hours or perform in demanding roles could miss out on significant moments in their child’s early life. Where shared parental leave is unworkable for families, employers should try to offer flexibility in other areas of employment policy. This might include showing leniency around annual leave requests from new parents and offering parental or compassionate leave for childcare emergencies.
For more details and advice on offering shared parental leave you can contact us by telephone or using our online form.