One quarter of senior managers are unaware of new leave arrangements

Many UK employers will get caught out by the new Shared Parental Leave (ShPL) rules which start on Monday 1st December, says a leading employment lawyer.

According to national law firm, Irwin Mitchell, the majority of firms are focussed on April 2015 when new parents can start to share leave rather than 1st December this year when requests for leave can start to be made. By ignoring this date, many employers are leaving themselves exposed to discrimination claims.

Irwin Mitchell’s warning about low awareness levels are backed up by YouGov’s latest survey, which reveals that 22 percent of senior managers claim to still know nothing about the new ShPL rules.

Their survey of 250 senior managers, which included directors and company owners, also found that 28 percent think that the additional rights for parental leave could create difficulties and extra work. Only 17 percent said they would be able to introduce the changes easily.

Interestingly, less than a third (31 percent) of senior managers also thought that the new rights were a better arrangement for parental leave than the current arrangements.

Glenn Hayes, an Employment Partner at Irwin Mitchell, says:

“Although it is some time before businesses need to adjust to their employees’ different leave patterns, many are unaware that they could face requests from staff from 1 December 2014. The truth is that if a business has an employee due to have children on or after 5 April 2015, they could start to receive requests from such staff from the start of December this year.”

A second survey reveals fathers also might not be prepared for the change

New research released today from Glassdoor, a jobs and careers community, reveals that the introduction of shared parental leave today could initially be held back by fathers’ attitudes.

Just one in four (23 percent) men surveyed agree new parents should share parental leave. This sentiment rises slightly to 31 percent amongst millennials (18-24 year olds) and falls to 21 percent for the over 45s.

The research, which was carried out amongst 2,000 employed men and women in the UK aged 50 or below, also revealed that 42 percent of men claim they would take minimum paternity leave in the event of their partner having a baby. Just over one in ten (12 percent) would currently take the maximum paternity leave while their partner took minimum maternity leave and returned to work.

Shared parental leave will become a statutory obligation for employers from today (1st December 2014) for children born on or before the 1st April 2015. Despite a potential low level of take up from prospective dads, further research reveals it will cost employers £17.1 million in the first year alone with an estimated 285,000 new parents eligible for it.

This assessment was based on every employer offering statutory shared parental leave and pay which equates to £138.18 a week or 90 percent of the dad’s salary, whichever is lower. However, further research suggests that most organisations that offer an enhanced maternity pay will also offer this enhanced pay to men taking shared parental leave. Already, three out of four employers have said they will mirror the pay currently offered to mothers to both men and women.

The research also explores attitudes towards couples taking the maximum amount of time off as possible to spend with their new baby. More than one in ten (13 percent) men claim that both they and their partner would do this in the event of a new arrival. For both men and women, this sentiment is highest (16 percent) amongst those who each earn between £40,000 to £50,000 a year.

Almost one in five (19 percent) of those on low salaries (£5,000 – £10,000) are most likely to make a decision around who stays at home by selecting the partner that earns the least money. Only seven percent of men concede that their partner earns more money than they do so they plan to buck the trend and be a stay at home dad while mum goes back to work. Sadly, for six percent of UK couples, taking anything off other than the minimum maternity and paternity leave is their only option as they simply can’t afford the other options.

Employers risk discrimination claims if requests are handled unlawfully

Designed to provide greater flexibility for families, ShPL will be available to eligible employees whose babies are due on after 5 April 2015, or who have a child placed with them for adoption on or after that date.

Under the new ShPL system, a pregnant woman will continue to have access to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of pay however under the new rules, working families will have the opportunity to share this leave.

Glenn Hayes says: “It is a complex piece of legislation and it is vital that companies deal with the requests correctly and familiarise themselves with how to deal with them. Many organisations are still to draw up a policy and communicate it to their staff. In my view, these companies are at risk of mishandling requests and inviting claims for discrimination.”

Irwin Mitchell advises companies develop their own ShPL policy if they haven’t already done so. This should include details about how employees should inform their employer, who the notification should be sent to and what should be included in it. It should also include how a notice to book leave will be handled and what contact with the organisation will be required during ShPL.

Jon Ingham, Glassdoor career and workplace expert comments: “Employers are entering a legal minefield when it comes to shared parental leave (SPL) but I’m not convinced they quite realise it yet. The introduction of the new legislation will bring with it a high expectation from both men and women in the workplace. Some organisations that currently offer an enhanced maternity package for women could feel pressured to match this for employees taking SPL. By not doing so, they could open the doors to sex discrimination claims.

“Overall, I really hope employers are prepared for today and are not planning to ‘wing it’ as and when they receive their first SPL request. To deal with this adequately, companies should have already drawn up staff policies in time for the introduction of the new legislation and made provisions to cover the extra costs which are anticipated to hit a minimum of £17 million while take up is low in the first year.”

Things to know about shared parental leave:

  • Statutory shared parental leave (SPL) and pay for men is £138.18 a week or 90 percent of employee’s salary, whichever is lower
  • Parents can take leave at the same time or separately, and it may be taken in blocks (up to a maximum of three blocks each) as long as no more than 50 weeks is taken between parents
  • Currently, mothers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay if their organisation does not offer an ‘enhanced’ package
  • Prior to the 1st of December, fathers were entitled to just two weeks paternity leave at the time of birth and up to a further 26 weeks parental leave once the child is 20 weeks old, if the mother has chosen to return to work
  • The introduction of shared parental leave allows working couples to share maternity leave and pay, following the first two weeks recovery period which mothers must take off immediately after birth
  • Up to 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared under the new shared parental leave scheme

Glassdoor recently added Benefits Reviews to its service, making it easier to compare benefits packages and perks. Through Glassdoor’s free online benefits review survey, employees are asked to rate how satisfied they are with their employer’s overall benefits package and describe the best and worst aspects of the benefits package.  Plus employees are asked to indicate what benefits and perks their employer specifically offers, including:

  • Health and wellness (e.g. health and dental insurance
  • Financial planning and retirement (e.g. pension plans, Sharesave schemes)
  • Family and parenting (e.g. maternity leave, childcare vouchers)
  • Annual leave and time off (e.g. holiday pay, sabbaticals)
  • Various perks (e.g. free lunches, company car, employee discounts)

In addition, employees are encouraged to rate and review each specific benefit or perk their employer offers – there are more than 40 benefits and perks employees can review.