UK Father’s Parental Leave Discrimination Claim Rejected on Appeal

UK Father’s Parental Leave Discrimination Claim Rejected on Appeal

The UK’s Employment Appeal Tribunal has overturned a controversial ruling from a lower court that a new father whose employer had declined to enhance his statutory pay while using shared parental leave had engaged in sex discrimination, Ashleigh Wight reports at Personnel Today:

Last year, the employment tribunal ruled that it was direct sex discrimination to allow new father Mr Ali only two weeks’ leave on full pay, when female staff were allowed to take 14 weeks’ maternity leave on their full salary. …

The EAT found the employment tribunal had erroneously interpreted that Mr Ali’s circumstances were comparable to those of a woman who had recently given birth as both had leave to care for their child. The EAT said the purpose of maternity pay and leave is to recognise the “health and wellbeing of a woman in pregnancy, confinement and after recent childbirth”.

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, he sued, and a tribunal ruled in his favor last June.

The nonprofit organization Working Families, which advocates for parental leave and other work-life balance benefits for UK workers, cheered the appeals tribunal’s ruling, saying that a final ruling in the plaintiff’s favor would have resulted in employers abandoning enhanced parental pay for mothers rather than extending it to fathers as well, Wight adds:

Chief executive Sarah Jackson said: “We intervened in this case because the particular workplace disadvantage women face having experienced pregnancy and childbirth must continue to be recognised in law. Only women can experience childbirth, and maternity leave is to protect women’s health and wellbeing – it cannot simply be equated with ‘childcare’.

“We have long called for greater rights and pay for working fathers, including properly paid, standalone period of extended paternity leave for fathers; but these should complement, not undermine, the rights of working mothers. This is a not a zero-sum game.”

Take up of the Shared Parental Leave policy, which 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, has been disappointingly low in its first three years, a fact critics attribute partly to pay discrepancies like the one the Alis experienced. Fathers also fear that they may be judged negatively and suffer in their careers if they take time away from work to care for children—akin to the “motherhood penalty” women commonly experience.

A recent government report from the Women and Equalities Committee found that outdated assumptions about gender roles and child care responsibilities are holding back working fathers in the UK from taking on equitable parenting roles in their households, even as men are increasingly interested in doing so. One policy change the WEC recommended was to make flexible working arrangements more available to working fathers. Recent sociological research suggests that nearly one third of employed fathers in the UK lack access to these arrangements, Workplace Insight’s Mark Eltringham reports:

The British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Newcastle heard this week that 30 percent of employed fathers surveyed could not work part-time, have flexible employment hours or work in a job share. The rate for women without flexible working was lower –10 percent, the researchers, from the UCL Institute of Education, the University of East Anglia, and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found.

The researchers examined data on 3,965 mothers and 4,211 fathers who were in employment and had children aged 16 or younger. They found that:

  • 42 percent of fathers and 78 percent of mothers had the opportunity to work part-time
  • 19 percent of fathers and 31 percent of mothers had the opportunity to work in a job share
  • 13 percent of fathers and 28 percent of mothers could work during term-time only
  • 38 percent of fathers and 37 percent of mothers could work in a flexi-time arrangement
  • 23 percent of fathers and 19 percent of mothers could work from home
  • 30 percent of fathers and 10 percent of mothers reported that none of these options were available.