The last few years have seen significant changes to employment law with the Conservative Government stating that supporting working parents is a priority. Hardly a day has gone by since the elections that ‘support for working parents’ has not been top line media. However, are parents really supported in the workplace? Zee Hussain, Partner at Colemans-ctts and Head of the Employment Department, looks at recent childcare initiatives proposed by both the new government and businesses.
Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap is clearly still prevalent, and the UK is one of the worst offenders compared to our European cousins. The most significant factors said to be contributing to the gender pay gap is part-time work, education, the size of the business and the fact that women are still under-represented in managerial and high-paying professions. The government proposes to introduce equal pay reporting for large employers but some employers are already ahead of the game and are already offering benefits to help retain women in senior positions such as through targeted training and development, career break opportunities, and enhanced maternity pay and benefits.
Working dads still face discrimination in the workplace. Despite family-friendly rules also applying to men, it still seems that the cultural assumption that women will be the primary carer is side-lining working dads. The case of Pietzka v PriceWaterhouseCoopers demonstrated that whilst the employer had award-winning policies to encourage an inclusive working environment, this did not extend to a senior employee who wanted to take an active role in his daughter’s upbringing. Mr Pietzka faced ridicule and was passed over for promotion as he had applied for flexible working. Fortunately, some employers are taking a more positive approach and have embraced the changes designed to encourage working dads to be more involved in childcare. Whilst partners of pregnant women can now take unpaid leave to attend antenatal appointments, the energy giant Centrica, is considering offering paid leave and introducing support networks for working fathers.
Shared Parental Leave
2015 has already seen the introduction of Shared Parental Leave which enables parents to be involved at an early stage of a child’s life. Recent reports have highlighted that often both parents cannot afford to take Shared Parental Leave as the current statutory rates of pay cause a significant decrease in the household income. Whilst the government has pledged to review the living wage, some employers are using this as an opportunity to attract staff by offering enhanced Maternity, Paternity and Shared Parental Leave packages meaning working parents can actually enjoy their time off rather than worry about work or money.
Increased childcare provision
During the Queens speech, it was announced that childcare provision for working parents with children aged between 3 and 4 will be doubled to 30 hours per week. However, due to cuts in fees and resources, nurseries have expressed concern and many have already faced closure in recent years. Therefore, employers have still faced absenteeism when private child-minders or family have let an employee down. To address this, some City employers have adopted emergency childcare provisions so employees can access childcare at short notice without needing time away from work. This approach has clear benefits to for both parties.
It is not only large employers who are leading the way for working parents. Smaller companies are also awarded for their inclusive and innovative approach to working parents which can often be challenging given the demands on the legal sector. Whilst SMEs can sometimes be concerned about adopting flexible working patterns when developing their business, this example shows that a little creativity and forward planning can help SMEs retain the skills needed to avoid losing staff and clients to larger competitors.
At the end of the day, having and raising a family is part of every day life for many people and supportive employers are rewarded with a happy and productive workforce and reduced staff absence. It is clear that the UK may be taking proactive steps to lessen the burden on our working parents, however, the country still has some way to go before catching up with those countries renowned for making it easier for workers to have and raise a family.