Lisa Guscott, Partner and employment specialist at Watkins & Gunn, looks at the impact of fathers’increased rights at work.
Despite the introduction of shared parental leave, fathers have been slow to take up their new rights at work.
The focus of the original legislation aimed at improving employment rights in this area was firmly fixed on improving the lot of working mothers. Paternity leave and pay weren’t introduced in the UK until 2003 and whilst parental leave has been available since 1999 for both mothers and fathers, this is unpaid.
In April 2015 shared parental leave and shared parental pay were introduced. Mothers must still take the initial two weeks after birth and fathers will still be entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave. However, then both parents then have a flexible choice of how to split up the rest of the leave entitlement – of up to 50 weeks. Shared parental pay (currently £140.98 a week or 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings whichever is lower) is only given for 37 weeks and the remaining 13 weeks of leave entitlement, if taken, is unpaid.
Example – If a mother ends her maternity leave after the 12 weeks following the child’s birth, that leaves 40 weeks of leave. She could split this remaining leave and take 30 weeks and her partner can take the other 10 weeks. Alternatively, the couple may choose to take 20 weeks of leave at the same time or at different times.
It was the Government’s intention that the introduction of shared parental leave would help encourage more working fathers to take more time off after the birth of a child and encourage mothers to return to work. However, statistics show that the take-up of shared parental leave is only approximately and 1% and 40% of companies report that not a single father has taken shared parental leave it was introduced.
There are numerous possible explanations behind the poor uptake of shared parental leave. However, one of the key reasons is financial. Whilst mothers often have their maternity pay topped up by their employer, employers are much less likely to top up shared parental pay – working families will therefore very often be worse off if the mother shares her leave with the father. It could be argues that this is discriminatory against men, but no cases have yet been brought to date. In addition, statistics show that 50% of fathers thought that taking shared parental leave would be perceived negatively by their employer and may harm their career prospects.
So what can employers do to help? Educating employees to raise awareness about the options available to them and combating negative perceptions would help. Also, they could enhance paternity pay and/or shared parental pay to match what is offered to mothers – but not all employers can afford to do it. A less costly alternative would be to offer more flexible working opportunities, such as working different patterns of hours or job-sharing. According to the TUC, the majority of employed fathers with young children (over 90%) work full-time, but the Working Families study showed that fathers want more flexibility in the workplace. So alternatives to the traditional fixed hours structure may appeal to many working fathers. Flexible working not only helps well-being at work but can also often lead to increased productivity for businesses.
Employers should consider actively supporting working fathers as well as working mothers. Although there may be cost implications in the short-term, these should be weighed against the potential long-term benefits of attracting and keeping the best workers and having a happy and productive workforce.
Fathers’ rights at work include the right to –
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. For more information contact Watkins & Gunn Solicitors on 01633 262122 or visit to our website www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk