Parental leave law still in its infancy

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Parental leave law still in its infancy


It’s been a year since the law was changed to enable shared parental leave. Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, partner and head of employment at asb law, revisits the change and looks ahead.


Since April 2015, shared parental leave has enabled eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how they will share time off work after the child is born or placed for adoption. Whilst initial government estimates suggested only 2-8% of fathers would take up the entitlement, research has shown that this figure is actually less than 1%. Whilst employers may have been ready for fathers to ask for long term leave after their baby was born, it seems apparent from this research that parents need more time to get their heads round their new statutory rights. 


Barriers to take up may include:

§  Financial - at a shared parental pay rate of £139.58 per week, there is a clear financial disincentive on the high earner in the family to take leave

§  Cultural - a stigma probably still exists in some groups around the father taking an extended period of time off to look after the baby, and whilst there are always exceptions, the take up figures suggest that the stigma is still alive and kicking

§  Maternal reluctance - whilst the law may seek to equalise rights, it cannot legislate for the maternal choice which is protected in the shared parental leave legislation

§  Employer lack of promotion - enhanced maternity pay is a key benefit in some large organisations. There is little evidence that new schemes have been introduced to offer enhancements for statutory shared parental pay

§  Ineligibility of the father - unless the mother is eligible for statutory maternity pay, the father cannot take up the shared parental leave rights. For true equality in this area fathers ought to be given a right independent of the mother’s eligibility or parental leave that does not need to be shared.


Grandparents’ rights

Employers face another layer of potential shared parental leave requests now that proposals have been announced to allow grandparents to share in the parental leave arrangements from 2018.


Many parents rely on grandparents for childcare in the early years and this sometimes results in those grandparents giving up their own employment or seeking to reduce their hours.


While working grandparents can submit a flexible working request to their employer, the extension of shared parental leave to grandparents will give them a statutory right to time off during the first 12 months of their grandchild’s life.


The future

The government will review shared parental leave in 2018 and if take-up remains low, there may be an appetite to ensure all parents are eligible and possibly place greater pressure on employers to remove financial barriers by improving the paid period of leave.


Steps to reduce the gender pay gap by the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting for employers with 250 or more employees may increase the number of men taking shared parental leave.  However, as this won’t start to bite until April 2018 when first reports will be issued, there is still a long way to go until the removal of gender pay inequality provides a fair choice in how the leave is taken.


This article was published in the Travel Trade Gazette on 2 June 2016.

Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, Partner, Employment & Head of Travel, asb lawFor more information on shared parental leave, or any other legal concern, contact Rebecca Thornley-Gibson, Partner.

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Published: 7 Jun 2016

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