Business Law & Compliance

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Prepare for new paternity legislation

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One of the most radical new pieces of workplace legislation in a long time is coming into force in April. Dads-to-be whose children are due on or after April 3, 2011 will be able to take up to six months additional paternity leave once the mother has returned to work. This will be paid at the same standard rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is currently £123.06.

So what does this new legislation mean for your businesses? What challenges does it throw up and what can you do to ensure your business and your employees are ready for the changes?

Last year, we surveyed more than 100 fathers about the legislation and found that almost half of all men welcomed it. Forty-six per cent of fathers said they would take advantage of the opportunity to share parental leave, just one-third (33 per cent) said they don’t plan to use the leave, and 18 per cent were undecided.

The research also revealed several barriers to taking up paternity leave, including financial pressures, workload responsibilities and the fear of going against traditional cultural stereotypes, where the responsibility for childcare traditionally falls to women.

In addition, some men believed their earning potential might be damaged if they took extra time off.

What these concerns highlight is the need for companies to consider carefully the support they will provide for those opting to take extended leave – the financial packages they offer, the management and handover of the work, how they communicate the news of the extended leave to colleagues and clients and the support they offer their employees.

With April approaching fast, you need to you have your plans at the ready to tackle the challenges ahead.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the new legislation: 

  1. Review internal policies and practices around paternity leave to ensure there is clear and up-to-date information and guidance for staff around managing parental leave;
  2. Define your philosophy on paternity leave, including the levels of pay you will offer (statutory or more generous);
  3. Decide on what support you will provide for men taking extended paternity leave such as coaching or training;
  4. Consider if you will emulate your maternity policies in order to ensure you treat men taking paternity leave in the same way you treat women going on maternity leave;
  5. Ensure you have best-practice materials, which outline your company policies and approach to the new legislation;
  6. Communicate clearly your policies and procedures to line managers. This will ensure any requests for extended paternity leave will be handled in a seamless and consistent way by managers across the organisation; and
  7. HR and line managers then need to communicate these policies to employees.

You could also:

  • Consider offering coaching programmes to employees to help them prepare both emotionally and practically for the transition. The coaching should cover how they communicate taking extended leave; how they handle and cover their workload responsibilities, and the support and training they may need on their return to work.
  • Look at scenarios that could pose potential challenges – for example, currently there is no legal obligation for men to announce they are taking paternity leave. Whilst short notice may be ok if men are only taking two weeks, if they want to take six months suddenly this may leave a big gap in the business. Putting a contingency plan in place is a good idea and it could be a good time to build greater flexibility into the workforce

Plan ahead now and that way, when the first request comes in, your business is ready.

Chris Parke is CEO of coaching and consulting company Talking Talent.

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