In a 21st century family, couples share responsibility for childcare so both partners can continue with their careers and have a role in the early months of their child’s life. For some couples, it makes financial sense for the father to be the primary carer because mum earns more. Recognising this is undoubtedly a good thing – and it’s about time we do.
Against this backdrop, the government has introduced legislation to enable couples to share 50 weeks of parental leave, and associated pay, between the mother and father from 2015. This is an excellent step forward for families embracing a flexible family arrangement.
However, we need to avoid Shared Parental Leave becoming a burden for business as the new arrangements will certainly be more complex than the current compulsory, ordinary and additional maternity and paternity leave. In recognition, the government is currently consulting on how the new arrangements can be administered with minimum impact on businesses.
Especially SMEs may find it difficult to monitor whether their employee’s partner has returned to work, in all likelihood at a different company. To judge whether their employee is entitled to parental leave, a company needs to assess the leave taken by their partner; a time-consuming process.
What complicates it further is that employees may be able to take leave in various blocks. Importantly, employers will be under no obligation to agree to multiple periods of leave.
The administration of Shared Parental Leave must be simple to work for parents and for business. SMEs are already bombarded with a constant stream of consultations, proposals and legislation changes. To help, fundamental alterations to the rights of new parents should be understandable, easy to implement and not detrimental to the functionality of businesses.
Flexibility recognises the change in family roles, but administration must not be onerous. If it is, businesses will spend valuable time and money on legal advice, or risk claims from employees for getting it wrong. The consultation could be the key to getting it right.
Adrian Hoggarth is Head of Employment Law at City law firm Prolegal.