News update – Firms get post-natal pressure

Small businesses will be put under pressure by government plans to extend paid maternity leave and paternity leave, claim employers and industry figures. The work and families bill unveiled at the end of the last month extends paid maternity leave to nine months from April 2007; introduces shared parental leave, and gives employees caring for adults the right to request flexible working from April 2007.

Paul Sharma, managing director of Sharma Solicitors, employment law specialists, said: "The government is managing to tip the scale of the work and life balance towards the employees, and smaller businesses will feel a disproportionate amount of the burden". Fathers, in addition to two weeks paid leave, will be able to take a further three months’ paid leave and three months unpaid leave in the second six months of the child’s life, but only pro-rata to the amount of leave given up by the mother. No date has been set for this.

Patricia Forrest, business administrator at packaging firm Par-Pak Europe, which employs 75 people, admitted: "Some small businesses will struggle, regardless of discrimination, I think some may try to avoid employing women of a certain age." But she added that many men would also be unable to afford to exercise their rights.