There are big changes on the horizon with regard to the way employers, and indeed society as a whole, view maternity and paternity leave. From April 2011, the Additional Paternity Leave (APL) scheme will allow new mothers to transfer a portion of their 12 months’ maternity leave to their partner.

This will be a massive cultural shift for many organisations. At present, men can take only two weeks statutory paternity leave; under the new legislation they will be able to take up to six months.

It will be interesting to observe the effects these changes have on the workplace. How many men, and from what levels, will take paternity leave? Will taking extended paternity leave threaten a man’s career progression in the same way that it threatens many women’s? Will more men become primary care givers?

One thing that is certain is that companies will need to have clear, up-to-date paternity policies in place, and will need to consider paternity leave in their strategic planning. This new legislation has the potential to significantly alter the dynamics of the workplace and HR will have an important role to play. HR professionals will need to be well versed in the changes to ensure this ‘new phase’ of parental leave is implemented seamlessly into the business.

The new legislation will also have follow on effects for recruitment. It is likely that shorter term contracts of six to nine months to cover maternity leave will become more common to allow employers the flexibility for mothers returning to work sooner to give their partners time off. It could also lead to new contracting opportunities to cover paternity leave as currently most companies do not cover the two weeks the partners are allowed. More organisations might strive to be ‘ahead of the curve’ with regard to maternity/paternity leave packages to attract new talent or retain key staff.

As is the case for many government initiatives, we expect the public sector to lead the way in this new era of parental leave. It is anticipated that the public sector will be more flexible, will pay above statutory rates and will foster a more encouraging culture around paternity leave. This is an area to watch – the public sector might become a new and attractive proposition for couples wanting to start a family.

As is the case for many government initiatives, we expect the public sector to lead the way in this new era of parental leave. It is anticipated that the public sector will be more flexible, will pay above statutory rates and will foster a more.