Implementing shared parental leave

When the government introduced Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in April 2015 it was hailed as a pioneering (and some might say, long overdue) measure in tackling the gender divide and helping to create a more level playing-field for working parents.

Yet, recent reports suggest that SPL, which allows parents to split up to 50 weeks of leave between them after the birth of their baby, had a very low take-up amongst new fathers. Only around 2% are thought to have used it.

Financial concerns, cultural barriers and a lack of understanding were thought to be the main reasons.

Main pros and cons employers need to consider when implementing an SPL policy?

Alexandra Thompson, head of people and culture at Harvey Water Softeners, says: “At Harvey we spent time understanding the law around SPL and making sure that our policy accurately reflected it. But the real key is to ensure that your line managers understand the policy and its implications – they are the most likely people to have a ‘casual’ request put to them when an employee is sounding out the idea.’”

If a line manager is dismissive due to a lack of understanding, it may, says Thompson, make the employee feel as if they’ve been discouraged.

To avoid this, you need to educate and inform your team about SPL and make sure you use the right language. “There is still some stigma for father’s wanting to take time off so, if we are going to create fairer more inclusive workplaces, it’s essential that we make this a thing of the past,” Thompson notes.

Cost effective ways to access legal information

Putting a robust SPL policy in place doesn’t have to be too complex or costly, says Thompson. “There are lots of very cost-effective ways to access the latest HR legal information – the CIPDs website for one,” she notes. “Make space for conversations so everyone is clear about expectations – it’s a daunting experience for many parents and not something they’ll necessarily have all the answers to right away.”

Lisa Fincham, mum of two and founder of MBL Accountants, says that there are several benefits for small businesses when it comes to SPL. “The benefits are undoubtedly being a supportive employer to those with families and recognising the worth of those employees, which you would hope is returned in terms of loyalty and contentment,” she notes. “I think it can also, in turn, prevent the loss of valued and experienced workers.”

It can, however, create something of an administrative headache for SME’s too. “For small businesses, the rules on eligibility do have complications to them,” Fincham says. “The HMRC notes, for example, state that the employee needs to give a minimum of eight weeks’ notice to start SPL or change it, which is a very short space of time, when working to client deadlines.”

How to maintain capacity

It could also cause some staffing complications.

“I think the biggest downside for employers is maintaining capacity within the business and, as it would probably be a shorter period than traditional maternity leave, it will undoubtedly mean the use of temporary staff,” Fincham notes. “This comes with firstly the cost, and secondly the learning curve for them to understand the business/clients in a short space of time to be effective.”

Olga Fitzroy, founder of Parental Pay Equality campaign group, says that not all small business owners are entitled to SPL. “Directors of businesses who draw a salary qualify for SPL in the same way as PAYE employees, providing they meet the length of service and minimum earnings requirements. However, sole-traders and partners are not eligible for SPL.”

Thompson points out, however, that we need to look at the bigger picture and the long-term advantages. “Allowing staff to dial down their work responsibilities at different times in their lives is, in my experience the way to get the best commitment and loyalty out of them,” she notes.

“We need to move away from considering work-life balance as a binary decision – it’s about blend. Someone who feels supported to prioritise their home-life for a period (for a variety of reasons not just childcare) will be so much more committed and dedicated in the long run which will far out-way the cost of SPL.”

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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