Business Law & Compliance

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MP Jo Swinson on Shared Parental Leave: It’s time for employers to get their houses in order

5 Mins

We are just under two weeks away from 5 April – the parents of babies due on or after this date will be eligible for Shared Parental Leave (or, for adopters, the date the child is adopted from).

After years of policy development and discussions with employers, industry bodies and working parents, I’m really excited that parents can now start taking the opportunity to decide on the childcare arrangements that work best for their family, rather than being restricted by outdated rules on maternity leave that assume every family is the same.

For employers, I believe this is a real opportunity for workplaces to embrace the benefits of flexible working. Yes, it’s true that more dads will be taking time out of work – but it also means mums can come back to work earlier if they want to. Plus, unlike maternity leave, employees can stop and start Shared Parental Leave and return to work for key periods and projects. Both mothers and fathers can maintain a strong link to the workplace whilst playing a full part in the vital first months of their child’s life; the policy also has an increased provision for “in-touch” days so that employees can stay updated on key developments at work before their return, or even phase their return with a period of part-time working.

Any nervousness from employers about these rules will, I believe, be resolved once businesses see how greater flexibility brings benefits for everyone. The rules have been designed to be as straightforward for employers and parents as possible, and are no more complex than the current maternity leave laws which serve the three quarters of a million mums who have babies each year. It won’t cost any more than maternity leave as shared parental leave pay will be refunded to employers – 92 per cent can be claimed back from the government. It’s not necessary for employers to speak to the employers of the other partner; everything is arranged through the employee.

Read more about Shared Parental Leave:

My hope is that the outdated assumption that childcare is only an issue for mums will be firmly put to bed as Shared Parental Leave becomes more established. Dads have a crucial role in early childcare too – and in fact, a survey conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) last month found that seven in ten dads regret missing milestones in their child’s early years.

Nearly a third of fathers surveyed said that they regretted not taking any, or enough, leave after the birth of their child, while more than one in five said that they weren’t there as much as they’d have liked to be in their child’s first years due to work.

Above all, it’s important for employers to remember that Shared Parental Leave is not optional – in the same way that an employer cannot refuse maternity leave to a pregnant woman, you cannot refuse to let a new dad take an extended period of leave in his child’s first year. Our survey last month found that two-thirds of men who are thinking of having children in the future said that, when they do, they are likely or certain to speak to their employer about sharing leave. If your business has not yet thought about Shared Parental Leave, now is the time to ensure you are up to speed and prepared for the new rules.

If employers need more information on Shared Parental Leave, ACAS have provided a practical guide. Employees can visit the dedicated website for more information and to find out whether they’re eligible.

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