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Employers failing fathers with refusal to engage on shared parental leave

There is no obligation on employers to offer anything more than the statutory minimum entitlement

Since 5 April 2015, eligible parents have been able to share up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave to care for their new-born or adopted child. The change in law led some commentators to voice concern that small employers would be faced with an unmanageable exodus of new fathers going on shared parental leave to join ranks with the yummy mummies at playgroup.

As is often the case, the panic was without foundation and there appears to have been little uptake from fathers.

Some larger employers, such as Netflix, PWC and Citibank, are actively promoting shared parental leave and offering parents enhanced paid shared parental leave.

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However, the majority of employers seem to be turning a blind eye to the issue and are not actively engaging with fathers even on their statutory rights. Whether this is because the new shared parental leave regime is simply too complicated to deal with, or employers are loathe to encourage fathers to take time out, is unclear. What is clear, however, is that employers who adopt this approach are not seen as actively encouraging it.

Generous paid shared parental leave is likely to encourage fathers to take time off with their family and may help with recruitment and retention. However, there is no obligation on employers to offer anything more than the statutory minimum entitlement.

Mothers and fathers are now able to share up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave. The first six weeks are paid at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings before tax. The remaining 33 weeks are paid at the statutory rate (currently £139.58) or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. The balance is unpaid.

A number of large employers have recently been described as offering employees generous paid shared parental leave, For example, it has been reported that Netflix allows its employees to take unlimited paid parental leave in the first year of birth or adoption. Citigroup, Shell and PwC are matching their shared parental leave and maternity leave pay schemes.

The take up of shared parental leave among fathers is likely to remain low whilst statutory pay for shared parental leave remains low. In 1974, Sweden became the first country to introduce shared parental leave. Take up was initially low. The government subsequently introduced take it or leave it time off and paid leave. Now around 85% of fathers take some shared parental leave.

I have spoken with a number of employers who are simply not paying enhanced shared parental leave because they are concerned about the potential cost implications and do not feel they can gauge the level of take up as they can with women going on maternity leave. It is obvious when a woman is pregnant; you do not get the same forewarning with a man.

The issue around pay during shared parental leave has arguably detracted many employers from simply promoting fathers’ basic statutory rights. The mere opportunity to have a break from their careers may also help to retain fathers. Taking time off to care for a child is no sabbatical. However, it can still provide fathers with a useful break from work. The more supportive the employer is during this time, the more likely the employee is to feel positive about their experience and their employer.

Many fathers are simply unaware of their new rights and employers should be doing more to promote it. I have spoken to many young potential fathers who are simply unaware of their rights and are seemingly reluctant to broach the issue with Human Resources. Presumably for fear that they will be seen as not committed enough to the business if they do so. Failing to engage with fathers on this issue sends a message to employees that it is not something the employer is keen to encourage. In doing so, employers are missing out on an opportunity to help fathers at an important time in their life, which could otherwise reap dividends for the employer in terms of recruitment, retention and engagement.

What can employers do to help promote shared parental leave?

  • A good starting point for employers is to prepare a shared parental leave policy. The new shared parental leave system is complex, so a good policy can help clarify issues for employers and employees. Preparing a frequently asked questions and timeline document can also help fathers to better understand their entitlements.
  • Employees should be made aware of the changes and how to obtain more information. It is reported that Citigroup advertised the change in law and its new shared parental leave scheme on screens in its lobby. Linklaters put an announcement on the internet. By advertising the change employers will be seen to be encouraging fathers to consider their rights and whether they wish to take time off. Employees should be encouraged to engage in early discussions with their management/HR.
  • HR/Diversity & Inclusion teams could promote fathers’ lunches and networks to discuss issues such as shared parental leave.
  • It may be useful to profile willing fathers who take shared parental leave, to present them as a case study to encourage other fathers. This can be promoted as part of the employer’s internal communications strategy.
  • If employers do offer enhanced shared parental pay, employers should consider requiring employees to remain in employment for a specified period on their return, or else have to repay all or part of their enhanced shared parental leave pay.

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