The arrival of a baby is an exciting but challenging time. There are sleepless nights, nappy changing and a crying baby to deal with. A mother can now share all of these joys with the father following the introduction of shared parental leave. Instead of the mother just taking maternity leave, shared parental leave allows both the mother and the father to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay between them in order to care for their child during its first year.
The Employment Relations Minister said: “Shared parental leave will kick-start a change where fathers feel empowered to take time off to look after their kids and not feel constrained by outdated stereotypes…” So, will shared parental leave really change things?
Finances will be a key consideration. A baby can alter a family’s finances significantly; baby gear, clothes and nappy supplies all add up pretty quickly. But just when household costs are increasing, the pay received during this leave will be at the flat rate of £139.58 per week for 37 weeks, the rest is unpaid. Therefore, the availability of any enhanced pay will be crucial in encouraging fathers to take up this leave.
Further, some fathers may have concerns about their managers’ attitudes if they take time off work to care for their child and worry that it might be detrimental to their career progression. Whilst shared parental leave is available to eligible parents whose babies are due to be born on or after 5 April 2015, changing attitudes about taking such leave from work can take much longer.
Also, in order to take shared parental leave both parents must agree to it. They must agree on whether to take their leave together or independently; in a single continuous block or with time back at work between shorter blocks of leave. However, will mothers want to give up their precious time with their child, especially when they are so young? Will fathers want to get more involved in their child’s upbringing for their first year or will escaping to the office for some peace and quiet be a more attractive option!
The Government anticipates that the take-up for shared parental leave will be relatively low at between only 2% and 8% of those eligible. However, it remains to be seen how the leave will be taken up. Regardless of the number of people who take up the leave, it will still be essential to ensure that businesses have clear policies in place on how shared parental leave will operate as it is another type of family leave that is available in addition to maternity and paternity leave.
Liz Pollock is an associate and solicitor in Raworths’ Employment unit. To contact Raworths telephone 01423 566666 or visit our offices at Eton House, 89 Station Parade, Harrogate, HG1 1HF. Alternatively, visit our website on www.raworths.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org