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Government Publishes Final Shared Parental Leave Regulations

Government Publishes Final Shared Parental Leave Regulations

The government has published the final version of its new Shared Parental Leave Regulations. From December 1st, both mother and father will have the right to request time off ahead of the birth of any child after April 5th, with women being allowed to share or transfer part of their maternity leave and pay to their partner. Provided the time off is taken in one block, employers must honour the request, although they may reject “discontinuous” time off on business grounds. Originally meant to come into effect on October 1st, the regulations were delayed after early drafts were found to be overly complex.

The new rules enable mothers and fathers to decide how they share a total of up to 50 weeks of maternity leave, including 37 weeks of paid leave, on top of the mandatory two weeks which must be taken by the mother. Employers must be given eight weeks notice prior to the leave beginning.

The government expects between just 2% and 6% of eligible fathers to take the leave, based on low uptake of past, similar schemes, such as paternity leave. However Clare Kelliher, professor of work and organization at Cranfield School of Management, said that even if take-up is that low to begin with, the new rules could herald a longer-term change in attitudes to shared leave: “Legislation can send a message even if it isn’t necessarily taken advantage of”. Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, went further, describing the changes as “the beginning of something fundamental and profound”.

“Motherhood penalty” cancels out a narrowed gender pay gap

According to the Office for National Statistics, the gender pay gap has narrowed and currently stands at 9.4%, from 10% in 2013. Welcome as this development is, women still face a so-called motherhood penalty, earning more on average than men between the ages of 22 and 39, before the situation reverses itself. Petra Wilton of the Chartered Management Institute says “The delay in this gap emerging can in part be attributed to the effect of women putting their careers first and delaying motherhood until they reach their thirties”.

It is hoped that the new regulations will go some way to countering this effect – not just delaying the appearance of a gap, but eventually even helping to ensure equal pay no matter a person’s gender. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg says it is jarring how workers “are still restricted by Edwardian rules when it comes to juggling their work and family lives”.

One-fifth of firms unprepared for new rules

However, a new survey suggests that employers may be underestimating the demand to take advantage of the new legislation, with many underprepared for its impact. Technology provider ADP found that 70% of HR directors predicted little or no interest in the first 12 months, and 21% not ready to meet the law’s requirements. Meanwhile, according to the same report, 33% of 16 to 34-year-olds say they are likely to use the new rulings some time over the next five years.

Working Families policy and research manager Jonathan Swan believes companies which already have flexible employment guidelines will cope well with the changes, commenting that shared parental leave “complements their existing policies and activities, which probably already have senior buy-in”.

To those that may not be already be fully prepared, Annabel Jones, HR director at ADP UK, warns “it’s time to start swotting up on the new rules, to ensure [they] are ready to answer any upcoming employee questions”.

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