NI: Shared Parental Leave - one year on
Jonathan Simpson, solicitor in the employment department at Cleaver Fulton Rankin in Belfast, reflects on the year since Shared Parental Leave was introduced.
It has now been a year since the Government introduced Shared Parental Leave (SPL), but what impact has it had?
The policy aims behind the legislation were to enable women to return to work sooner after giving birth and to give parents the option of spreading almost a year’s worth of leave, rather than the traditional method of the mother being allocated the majority of the time off. Instead a couple can now split the 50 week allowance to best suit their needs and an employer is expected to accommodate this within reason.
Yet to date this hasn’t seen the cultural change that was perhaps expected, with statistics showing a mere 1% of men have opted to partake. So what is causing the reluctance to make use of SPL? Research has suggested a number of factors are relevant for couples considering SPL:
Figures published by My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council show that 55% of women say they don’t want to share their leave with their partner. When questioned, most women agreed that they preferred the bulk of time, and if they were to opt for SPL they would only do so for a small fraction of their leave.
It has also been suggested that fathers have chosen not to opt for Shared Parental Leave over the traditional two weeks of Paternity Leave, with half saying that they feel taking more time off would be perceived negatively at work.
Undoubtedly financial affordability still remains the number one consideration for couples when discussing SPL. 80% of couples said the decision to share their leave would be dependent on their financial situation, and on whether their employer had chosen to offer an enhancement on the basic pay stipulated by SPL legislation.
Research suggests that given the potential costs involved, many employers believe they are better off ‘waiting and seeing’ what the uptake is like before deciding whether or not to grant enhanced Shared Parental Pay (SPP). Employers should note that SPP could be viewed as a competitive benefit and if they fail to grant enhanced SPP where they already offer enhanced maternity pay, they could potentially be at risk of discrimination claims.
Of course it is still early days for SPL. As with all change it will inevitably take time to alter the stereotypical views of maternity leave taking precedence over paternity leave. As both employers and employees become more aware of SPL as an option and as more information becomes available, the practice may increase. Interestingly 63% of fathers said they would make use of SPL if they were to have another child.
While uptake is low at present, given the complexities in implementing SPL, employers should ensure they have up to date maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies and introduce policy documentation for SPL should employees wish to explore this option. Employers should also consider whether or not to grant enhanced Shared Parental pay.