UK Government Wants Businesses to Do More for New Parents

Shared parental leave to level the gender playing field

As of 1 December this year, fathers now have the same rights as mothers when it comes to taking leave from work following the birth of a child.

For all babies due after April 2015, employers must offer shared parental leave of up to 50 weeks, rather than the father’s usual fortnight.

Fathers use holiday allowance for maternity

In a move that has been warmly welcomed by a generation of working mothers, parents can now choose how to split their paternity leave between them, opening the door to a much more equal division of childcare. Indeed, a recent survey by Mumsnet revealed that, prior to these changes, some 39% of fathers had had to use up paid leave, in order to support their partner and new baby during the postpartum period.

Now, it will be possible for up to 50 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks pay to be shared in any combination, aside from a compulsory 2 week period immediately following the birth, which must be taken by the mother. The message, it seems, is getting through: recent research by the outsourcing firm ADP found that up to a third of expectant fathers surveyed plan to take advantage of the new legislation.

Shared parenting rights

There is little doubt, however, that a cultural sea-change in attitudes will not happen overnight. Employers are concerned about the effect these changes will have on their work forces and fathers fear losing money and status if they leave their jobs for months on end.

The Scandinavian model, however, is proof that shared parenting rights can become the norm when government and businesses are working together. In Sweden, Norway and Iceland, a percentage of leave is reserved exclusively for fathers at around 80% of their salary; the so-called “Daddy quota.”

Far from creating pressures, the head of one of Norway’s biggest employment associations affirms that it, in fact, “strengthens the man’s position in the family and the woman’s in the workplace”.

In order for the new laws to make a real difference here, therefore, the Government is calling upon employers to take positive steps: making employees aware of their rights, aligning notice periods for pay and leave to make the system simpler and maintaining the right for parents to return to the same job after their leave.

In return, they can expect to gain from a system which allows them to keep talented women in the workforce and have a more motivated and productive staff as a whole.