What will the new paternity leave changes mean?Wanda Goldwag is Non-Executive Chair of talent management business True North Human Capital Ltd.
New paternity proposals have recently been made that would mean that from 2015 mothers and fathers would share far more fully in parental leave.
The really big change would be that both parents could share up to 58 weeks of paternal leave between them and that both could use some of the allowance as they choose at any time throughout the year. The hope is that both parents will genuinely have the option to take leave and share the responsibility for early child care.
Some employers will take the view that this is something to worry about at a later date. Modern forward thinking employers will welcome the changes and the flexibility this it gives to their staff members and want to work through the issues that need to be addressed, to make the new proposals workable for all parties.
The first clear challenge is how an employer will know what leave their staff member is still entitled to with absolute certainty given that in the majority of cases the other parent will not be an employee of theirs. Most parents use a mixture of holiday leave, time off in lieu and paternity leave in combination and it can be quite difficult to track the eligibility of one’s own employee through the process, let alone someone who is not directly your responsibility.
The second issue that needs to be resolved is policies that have traditionally been created to meet the needs of mothers for example ensuring that women have time to breast-feed their children during the day or attend post natal classes or events. Will these still need to apply or will they need modification if the other parent is taking parental leave at that time?
The proposed legislation doesn’t make it mandatory to pay ‘enhanced paternity pay’ to fathers but clearly a modern employer may find it difficult under the circumstances to give a benefit only to female members of staff. There will therefore be on average a cost increase as men still earn more.
Another area that may need to be addressed is that very often, current parental leave policies formed the basis of other policies around adoption and fostering and leave, for example, for lesbian and gay partners. These would also now need to be updated to ensure fairness.
Other changes may be required for example to bonus structures that have been created to ensure that people return to work at the end of their leave period. Will these now be paid at the end of the 58 week period or when the staff member concerned returns to work?
Lastly, how will an employer react if their policies and procedures are far superior or inferior to those of the employer of their non-staff member? That difference begins to distort the decisions of the parent who does work for them, in a way that the company may find unhelpful.
Sensible employers will start reviewing these issues now so that processes can be defined and clear policy guidelines can be agreed with trade unions and staff representative bodies. They will do this because if a company can create an enhanced package, ahead of actual legislative changes, it is more likely to attract and retain the best staff.
Financial Mail, Women's Forum June 2011