Shared Parental Leave: discrimination against working fathers?

Almost half of fathers who have taken time off to look after their new born children have suffered Shared parental leave discrimination at work according to a recent survey commissioned by software company PowWowNow.

A survey conducted by PowWowNow found that 44% of fathers had experienced some form of discrimination, while a shocking 25% had been verbally abused or mocked after taking Shared Parental Leave (SPL) or paternity leave. 

Thirty-five per cent of respondents to the survey believed that taking shared parental leave had had a detrimental impact on their careers with 17% having lost the job as a result of taking this leave, while nearly 20% had suffered a demotion.  

Given these figures, it’s hardly surprising that only 1 in 10 fathers have taken shared parental leave since its introduction in 2015. However, given the acknowledged benefits of fathers being actively involved in their children’s childcare, what should employers be doing to encourage their male employees in this respect?

What leave can fathers take?

Before looking at what employers could be doing here, it is worth setting out the basic rights that fathers have in relation to different types of family leave. 

Ordinary Paternity Leave

Employees who:

  • have been employed by their current employer for at least 26 weeks.
  • are the spouse, civil partner or partner of the child’s mother.
  • will have responsibility for the child’s upbringing
  • have not already taken shared parental leave in respect of the same child.

They are entitled to two weeks of ordinary paternity leave. This leave must be taken within 56 days of the child’s birth or placement for adoption.  During this leave, employees are also entitled to receive statutory paternity pay, which is currently £140.98 (or 90% of weekly earnings whichever is lower). They continue to be entitled to all of their employment benefits apart from those relating to pay.  Having taken ordinary paternity leave, employees are usually also entitled to return to the same job.

Shared Parental Leave

The rules around shared parental leave are complex, but the basic right is that fathers can potentially take up to 50 weeks of this type of leave. Once the mother has taken her two weeks of compulsory maternity leave, parents can then choose how they split up the remaining 50 weeks, with the option of taking some of this leave together at the same time.

Shared parental leave must be taken in blocks of complete weeks. It can be taken as one continuous period, which must be accepted by the employer, or discontinuous periods, which can be refused.

Shared parental pay is paid at the same rate as ordinary paternity pay and is paid up to 37 weeks. Employees are entitled to all their contractual benefits apart from those relating to pay during shared parental leave.

The rights of employees returning to work from shared parental leave depends on the amount of leave taken.  Those employees who have taken less than 26 weeks leave have the right to return to the same job. Employees who have taken more than 26 weeks’ leave have the right to return to the same job, or a similar job if it is not practical to return to the same position.

>See also: Dads want bigger childcare roles but just 1 in 10 take Shared Parental Leave

Parental Leave

After one year of employment, parents each have an entitlement to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per child.  This leave can be taken between the child’s birth and their 18th birthday.  No more than four weeks’ parental leave can be taken each year unless the employer agrees on extra leave.

For each of these three types of leave, employees have the right not to be disadvantaged as a result of taking or seeking to take the leave.  The type of discrimination highlighted by the PowWowNow survey could, therefore, give rise to an Employment Tribunal claim. Similarly, if an employee is dismissed for taking this type of leave, such a dismissal will be automatically unfair.

What steps can employers take to encourage fathers to take parental leave?

The short answer to this question is to pay fathers more for taking the different types of family leave.  It is no surprise that the European countries that offer the highest rates of pay have the highest proportion of fathers taking parental leave.  The legal entitlement to pay during paternity and shared parental leave is just £140.98 per week. If the father is the higher earning partner, then it could be impossible financially for the father to take much time off. While it’s not unusual for employers to offer some form of enhanced maternity pay, few employers have yet to extend such enhancement to shared parental pay as well.

It’s not only financial factors that prevent fathers from taking shared parental leave but as the survey identified, cultural issues are relevant too.  Fathers worry how their bosses and colleagues will react when they attempt to take leave and with good reason given the results of the survey.  The more men who take paternity leave, the more normalised it will become and fathers will then feel more comfortable in taking leave.  Employers have an important part to play here by emphasising the ability to take parental leave and that employees that do so will be supported. 

Also, by taking parental leave themselves, senior managers can act as important role models in this regard. Making it clear as well that victimisation of employees who take parental leave will not be tolerated. Offering the ability to work from home and having a positive approach to requests for flexible working are beneficial for all working parents. It sends important signals to fathers that it is acceptable to take parental leave.

Further help for fathers taking parental leave could be on the horizon, as well as the government is currently consulting on extending the redundancy protection available to women on maternity, to employees taking other forms of family leave too.   

Given the high percentage of fathers who would like to take more parental leave, family-friendly policies are increasingly important. Of those fathers who did take some form of parental leave, 90% said that it had a positive impact on their family life. Encouraging fathers to take greater levels of parental leave should also help equality within organisations. Balancing family leave more evenly can reduce the possible detrimental impact on having time out from work, which has previously tended to affect women more.  The knock on result of this would be a reduction in any gender pay gaps.

>See also: How to embrace Shared Parental Leave to reduce the gender pay gap

About the author:

Nicholas Le Riche is a Partner at BDB Pitmans. Nick helps professional services firms, companies and charities with a wide range of employment and HR issues.

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