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Over 50% of Britons believe childcare should be shared

Over 50% of Britons believe childcare should be shared

With just over two months to go until the new Shared Parental Leave Regulations (SPL) come into effect on April 5th, a new survey from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has found that 53% of Britons believe that mothers and fathers should bear equal responsibility for childcare – and that 83% of potential future parents will consider taking advantage of the new rules, which allow couples to split 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them in their child’s first year, 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.

Existing rules on statutory maternity pay will continue to apply, with mothers receiving 90% of their regular salary for the first six weeks, and a statutory £138.18 per week for the 33 weeks thereafter. Fathers will be paid a share of this, depending on how much time they take off. Employers are not obliged to accept patterns of shared leave that won’t work for their business, but are not able to veto either the start date or the total amount of leave that an employee wishes to take.

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat Business and Equalities Minister, has described the rules as “good for children, good for parents and good for equality in the workplace”.

Significant minority with concerns with the new employment regulations

Nevertheless, a significant minority of companies remain concerned about their implementation of the new employment law. The website Working Mums found that, although 81% of employers are in favour of the new approach, with a quarter already having updated their policies and 56% in the process of doing so, 19% said they would find it difficult to implement in their organisations.

Workingmums founder Gillian Nissim said:

“It is interesting to see how many employers welcome SPL […] and how they are looking at ways of making it work. However, there still appear to be a number of employers who are not aware of it or had not thought deeply about its implications”.

Vital for firms to update their employment policies

One interesting area is that of enhanced maternity pay. The government is leaving it up to individual employers to decide whether to extend this to all parents taking SPL; however, those that do not potentially open themselves up to indirect sex discrimination claims, on the basis that it disadvantages the male parent.

This creates the possibility of many firms withdrawing the enhanced pay altogether – meaning the take-up rate for SPL could be lower than first envisaged. Julie McCarthy, head of policy, research and communications at Working Families, believes that:

“Without the enhanced rate being applied, many families may find SPL unaffordable”.

Research from manufacturers’ group the EEF found that 40% of HR professionals view SPL as a key challenge over the next six months, outranking improving staff attendance and performance, managing change and equal pay.

Lucy Atherton, a legal compliance officer at the organisation, describes SPL as “a fantastic opportunity for companies to promote a more gender-neutral approach to work-life balance”, but emphasised how important it is that companies “get up-to-speed as quickly as possible so that they and their staff can maximise the benefits, while avoiding potential downfalls”.

At IBB Solicitors, we take a proactive approach to workplace problems, helping employers find the best possible outcome for their employment issues. We can help advise on policy reviews and provide expert training for your HR team. Our specialist employment lawyers place heavy emphasis on continuing personal training and development, to ensure that they always present you with the most up-to-date legal and practical advice available.

Find out how we can help you settle disputes and stay on the right side of the UK’s ever-changing employment law by calling us on 01895 207892, or email your details to employment@ibblaw.co.uk.