The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has published a report today calling for a radical overhaul of the rules on maternity leave to give small businesses greater clarity regarding the intentions of employees returning to work. Audrey Williams, head of discrimination at international law firm Eversheds, comments:

“The coalition has promised a new system of flexible parental leave that would give parents more choice over how and when they share leave between them, possibly including both parents taking time off simultaneously. But while the proposal will provide the Government with an opportunity to look at ways of easing the burdens on small business, the sort of flexible scheme that the Government seems to have in mind will bring its own challenges.”

“In the meantime, problems caused by the complexity of rules on maternity leave and pay are not helped by the uncertainty surrounding the Government’s plans for new laws extending paternity rights that were introduced by the Labour Government earlier this year. The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010 give fathers of babies due on or after 3 April 2011 the right to take up to 6 months’ paternity leave (in addition to their existing two week entitlement).

“However, comments made by the Minister for Women and Equalities, suggest the Regulations could be postponed and, ultimately, rewritten by the coalition Government to reflect its plans for a more flexible type of parental leave.

“Employers and employees alike need to know for certain, and sooner rather than later, whether the Regulations will take effect next year or not. Time is marching on and the first babies whose fathers would benefit from the 2010 Regulations are no longer just a twinkle in their parents’ eye. Newly expectant parents need to know what rights they will have so that they can plan accordingly, as do their employers.

“Employers have to put a lot of work into preparing for new legislation like this, understanding how the changes will affect their business, adapting policies and training staff. If they start, or continue, that process there will be abortive costs if the Government withdraws the Regulations. But if they don’t start preparing now they could be caught out if the Regulations take effect as originally planned.”