Shared parental leave could create issues

The government has outlined how its incoming system of shared parental leave will work for employers and employees when it comes into effect from April 2015.

Under the new system, eligible working families will have more flexibility around how they can balance work and caring commitments. Parents will be able to be at home together or to work at different times and share the care of their child.

The government also announced that the system will include: capping the number of times staff can notify their employer to take a period of parental leave; the right for each parent to have up to 20 days to support their return to work after a period of shared parental leave; and aligning the notice periods for leave and pay for a parent taking paternity leave.

Although the system is aimed at providing greater flexibility for staff, some fear it could present problems for employers.

Julian Cox, employment lawyer at Fletcher Day, said: “No doubt the new rules will present a potential headache for employers.

“Organisations are going to have to change their thinking for working families and will need to plan staff needs in more detail.

“In an effort to allay fears about the impact on businesses, appropriate notice requirements are built in to enable employers to plan for shared parental leave.”

Employers’ efforts to help parents return to work have also been called into question by research published at the end of last year.

Figures published by parenting website Mumsnet at the end of November found that 26% of the staff surveyed worked for an employer with no return-to-work policy. When asked what employers could do to be more family-friendly, the most popular response was to offer flexible-working arrangements.

Meanwhile, research by the Trades Union Congress, also published in November, ranked the UK last in Europe for providing working parents with well-paid leave following the birth of a child.

Its survey found that the European average for maternity leave is 43 weeks, compared with just six weeks of statutory maternity pay at 90% of salary in the UK. Working mothers in the UK are also entitled to an additional 33 weeks’ pay, but this is only at £136 a week. Just one in four women in the UK receive extra occupational maternity pay from their employer.

However, some employers have recently been recognised for embracing the business benefits of flexible working and being proactive in creating a family-friendly workplace. Atkins, Barclays, Danone and Royal Mail Group were among the organisations recognised in the Top Employer Awards.