The UK’s Department for Business is making a new push to raise awareness of the Shared Parental Leave program, after finding that as few as 2 percent of eligible parents are taking advantage of it, the BBC reports:
Around half of the general public are still unaware the option exists, nearly three years after it was introduced, the government said. It now plans to spend £1.5m to better inform parents about the policy. Experts say that as well as a lack of understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties are deterring some parents from sharing parental leave.
The government’s campaign will encourage parents to “share the joy” through online advertising, social media and on billboards. Business minister Andrew Griffiths said the policy meant dads didn’t have to miss out on “their baby’s first step, word or giggle”.
Nearly three years after Shared Parental Leave was enacted, the government is still struggling to get British workers to use it. Approximately 285,000 couples become eligible for the publicly guaranteed benefit each year, but by one estimate last year, fewer than 9,000 parents took advantage of it in the year prior to March 2017.
Last month, a News.com.au report highlighted a novel way that a CEO in Australia has been trying to encourage better work-life balance and less presenteeism in his workforce. Robbert Rietbroek, CEO of PepsiCo in Australia and New Zealand, asks his executive team to “leave loudly” when departing the office so that they are being extra visible (and audible) role models for junior employees.
“If I occasionally go at 4 pm to pick up my daughters,” Rietbroek told the news site, “I will make sure I tell the people around me, ‘I’m going to pick up my children.’ Because if it’s okay for the boss, then it’s okay for middle management and new hires.” He added that if you are “younger or more junior, you need to be able to see your leaders go home, to be comfortable to leave.”
Since Rietbroek became CEO in 2015, he has been promoting a number of family-friendly workplace policies, including 16-week parental leave, flexible work times, and summer Fridays. The benefits are not just limited to working parents, either, as the flexibility is centered around the concept of “One Simple Thing,” where an employee can pick the most important thing in their personal life and can build a work schedule around that. For many, the one simple thing is being more involved in their children’s lives, but for others, like the head of procurement, it can be a hobby like surfing.
The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law was intended to encourage working parents to more evenly split up the burden of caring for infant children by allowing new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Since being enacted in April 2015, however, the SPL policy has failed to garner much uptake: The latest research shows that even though plenty of parents are taking leave, just a few took advantage of this policy last year, Emily Burt reports at People Management:
[F]igures published by law firm EMW found that, while 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leave in the year to March 2017, only 8,700 parents took SPL. “Many new parents are unclear about how the system will work for their families and careers,” warned Jon Taylor, principal at EMW. “Fathers in particular could be concerned about coming across as less committed to their job if they ask for greater flexibility, deterring them from looking into it.” …
Separate figures obtained by People Management in June revealed that fewer than 7,500 men had taken SPL in the past year, with experts suggesting that they had been deterred by the ‘complexity’ of the rules. Meanwhile, CIPD data from December 2016 found that just 5 per cent of new fathers had opted to take SPL.
Previous studies have shown persistently low take-up of this benefit, which has left architects of the policy and advocates of mainstreaming paternity leave scratching their heads as to why it hasn’t caught on. The hundreds of thousands of fathers taking parental leave suggests that the problem is not one of insufficient demand.
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.
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The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. The law, enacted over two years ago in an effort to encourage couples share parenting responsibilities more evenly by making it easier for fathers to take paternity leave, has suffered from frustratingly low take-up, with research finding that while many fathers want to take leave, they fear that doing so would cost their families more income than they could afford to lose, or would set them back in their careers. In the latest study, which Marianne Calnan highlighted at People Management this week, the solicitors’ firm Milners surveyed 56,000 employees and found that just 54 of them had taken SPL—less than one in 1,000:
“SPL was trumpeted as a family-friendly policy, designed to help working dads improve their work-life balance, spend more time in a ‘hands on’ role raising their family and lift the load from their partners, but our analysis suggests that there is either little appetite for it, little knowledge about it – or both,” said Simon Bass, managing partner of Milners.
“There is also some anecdotal evidence that some working dads fear discrimination, and that their career prospects may suffer if they pursue SPL, and others who are the main breadwinner in the family say it is simply not an affordable option. Both these reasons will give employers and the government important food for thought.”
The main culprit for this low take-up, solicitor John Smith argues at Personnel Today, may be that employers are much less likely to top-up shared parental leave pay as they commonly do for mothers on maternity leave:
The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law, which was introduced in April 2015, allows new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. The policy was enacted in an effort to encourage more working fathers to take paternity leave, but dads have been hesitant to take advantage of the entitlement, possibly due to stigmas around taking time away from work and fears of falling behind in their careers, or possibly because employers have not done enough to raise awareness of the policy and encourage male employees to take parental leave.
With the law now entering its third year, two studies have come out looking at why men aren’t taking SPL in greater numbers. Sara Bean at Workplace Insight highlights a qualitative study conducted by the benefits company My Family Care that explores these reasons in detail:
According to My Family Care, while two months’ absence is thought to be manageable, possibly three at a push, there is a feeling that any more than this would have a ‘negative’ or ‘stalling’ impact on career prospects. There also appears to be trouble making sense of the policy details – with many people feeling that HR practitioners are as uncertain as the individual. Unintentional bureaucracy is a stumbling block too, where HR departments are grappling with the process of understanding SPL. …
A man in the UK has succeeded in a sex discrimination case after his employer refused to pay him the same as his wife while they were on parental leave, Jo Faragher reports at Personnel Today:
Mr Snell and his wife, who both worked for the rail company, opted to share their leave when she gave birth to their baby in January this year. His application indicated that his wife would take 27 weeks’ leave and he would take 12 weeks after that. But while Mrs Snell would receive full pay for her six months’ leave, Mr Snell was told he was only entitled to statutory parental pay of £139.58 for this period.
Mr Snell raised a grievance with his employer, in which he stated: “Payments to mothers on shared parental leave will be at significantly different rates to fathers. “As a result of this I believe I am being discriminated against because of my sex.” His grievance was rejected, with Network Rail claiming it had met its legal obligations by only paying statutory parental pay. An appeal, which did not take place until after the birth of the baby, was also rejected. When his grievance was dismissed, Mr Snell lodged an indirect sex discrimination claim with an employment tribunal. His claim was successful and he was awarded £28,321.