Personnel Today reports on the case of a UK man who challenged his employer’s parental leave policies in an employment tribunal and won. Mr. Ali, a former Telefónica employee, had transferred to a job at Capita but remained covered by his former employer’s policies, which offered 14 weeks of enhanced maternity pay to mothers on leave but only two weeks’ leave at full pay to new fathers. His wife had returned to work not long after giving birth, based on medical advice that doing so might help alleviate her postpartum depression, leaving Mr. Ali to care for the baby. When he was told that he was only entitled to the statutory rate prescribed in the UK Shared Parental Leave law for his paternity leave beyond the first two weeks, Mr. Ali took his claim to the tribunal, which recently ruled in his favor:
Mr Ali argued that the employer’s policy assumes that a man caring for his baby is not entitled to the same pay as a woman performing that role, taking away the choice that he and his wife wanted to make for their baby. According to Mr Ali, this was not a valid assumption to make in 2016. The employment tribunal upheld Mr Ali’s sex discrimination complaint in Ali v Capita Customer Management Ltd. It accepted that men are being encouraged to play a greater role in caring for their babies.
The employment tribunal believed that the role of primary carer is a matter of choice for the parents, but that the choice should be free of “generalised assumptions” that the mother is always best placed to undertake the primary role and should get full pay.
This case is the second time a UK employment tribunal has ruled that paying unequal rates to mothers and fathers on parental leave constituted sex discrimination: In Snell v Network Rail, decided last fall, another tribunal ruled that Network Rail, which employed both the plaintiff and his wife, could not justify compensating her at full pay for her maternity leave while only paying him the statutory rate.
The common practice of employers “topping up” statutory parental pay for mothers but not for fathers is one reason some observers believe Shared Parental Leave uptake remains disappointingly low. That law is just over two years old and has not yet been extensively litigated, so it is too early to say whether cases like these will result in a change in policy requiring employers to equalize pay for maternity and paternity leave. It does appear, however, to be the direction in which tribunals are inclined to interpret the law.