The new regulations, which come into force on 5 April, place a duty on employers to ensure that eligible staff can take leave and don’t face any penalties for doing so. The amount of leave is calculated using the mother’s 52-week entitlement. If the mother reduces the amount of time she wants to take away from the workplace, her partner may opt in to share the remainder.
The survey of key decision-makers at 500 British SMEs by employment law company Slater and Gordon found that a quarter of business leaders expect none of their staff will apply to take part in the scheme.
The change in the law comes despite concern among Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses about extra red tape and regulations placed upon them. According to the findings, just 14 per cent of SMEs said that they “fully supported” the new regulations and regard them as positive.
Although one in four do believe that the previous regime gave men an advantage over women, the same proportion said that the new scheme would create problems for businesses and have little lasting effect on creating a level playing field for women.
In particular they were concerned about the increased pressure that the changes could place on their existing workforce and the additional costs involved in hiring staff to cover those on leave.
But lawyers have warned that businesses which don’t prepare properly risk legal claims if they treat male or female staff unfairly. Employers should plan ahead and work with the new scheme, according to Slater & Gordon. In doing so, it could be benefit, rather than be a burden.
Read more about Shared Parental Leave:
- The details behind Shared Parental Leave
- The impact of the legislation
- ACAS releases guidance on SPL
“Businesses are not yet convinced that Shared Parental Leave is a positive,” said senior employment lawyer at Slater & Gordon Jim Lister. “But these changes are coming, and they present an opportunity for progressive businesses to integrate shared parental leave into the wider benefits package. I am confident that if the change is welcomed at the top of organisations and appropriate processes are put in place straight away, businesses can differentiate themselves positively in the eyes of their employees.”
He added: “Businesses should see this is as a scheme enabling women employees to return to work and I believe that before long it will be commonplace. In years to come I think businesses will simply accept that both men and women could take periods away from the office after the birth of their children.”
According to the research, 42 per cent of those asked said that they would be surprised if any of their male staff applied to take advantage of the new rights – and yet one in five had already received such an application.
Other top concerns for businesses were that staff without children would be resentful of those taking up shared parental leave (42 per cent), absent staff would seriously jeopardise the business (36 per cent) and staff morale would be seriously compromised (28 per cent).
Lister said: “A lot of the concerns here would be alleviated if businesses put processes in place and issue guidance to staff as early as possible. Small businesses should get advice now to make sure they do not create a culture where men may feel nervous to take up the leave. Bosses have a very important role to play in promoting and normalising Shared Parental Leave. If they do that successfully then they will see a happier, motivated and more equal workforce and that can only be good for business.”
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) advises employees and employers to start discussions early. It is running training courses for small as well as large businesses to help employers prepare for the SPL changes.
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