Parental leave – an opportunity missed?
The Government’s recent decision to reject the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recommendations in respect of parental leave, may not seem like a headline issue, but it may well represent a real opportunity that has been lost.
With the result of the recent compulsory gender pay gap reports showing that 78% of companies pay men more than women (based on a median pay gap) organisations have been looking at the causes of the gender pay gap in their business and how that gap can be narrowed.
Research has shown that the gender pay gap could be reduced if men took more time off and women less. As such, increasing the usage of parental leave is likely to have a positive impact in reducing the gender pay gap.
A recent survey by Aviva showed just how much work needs to be done in respect of parental leave. Their research showed that almost half of working fathers had never heard of shared parental leave and the majority took less than one month off after the birth of their most recent child. The research also showed that one in ten of the working fathers surveyed said they took no time off whatsoever following the birth of their child.
Whilst new rights with regard to shared parental leave were introduced in 2015 allowing parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay, awareness of this entitlement and take up of the entitlement has been low. The Women and Equalities Committee sought to address some of these issues by making recommendations in respect of parental leave including:
- giving all fathers who are employees entitlement to paid time off to ante-natal appointments as a day one right
- making sure that fathers who are employees are eligible for two weeks’ paternity leave as a day one right and that the two weeks’ paternity leave should be paid at 90% of earnings
- consideration should be given to an alternative policy of 12 weeks’ parental leave which would be in addition to existing entitlements for a mother to maternity leave and pay. This new right will be available for fathers in the first year after the child’s birth and should be paid at 90% of salary for the first 4 weeks (with a cap for higher earners) and the remaining 8 weeks paid at statutory levels
- the Government should consider the benefits for amending the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 to add an additional characteristic of “paternity”.
However, in the Government’s recently published response to the Committee’s recommendations, the Government firmly rejected all of the Committee’s recommendations. Whilst their response does recognise that there are issues which need to be addressed, there appears to be no appetite at the moment for any change in legislation to increase the uptake of parental leave and encourage fathers to take more time off following the birth of their children.
In the absence of any Government initiatives, those organisations looking to encourage fathers to take more time off in order to help address a gender pay gap, will need to look at their own policies and procedures. This could include providing for greater periods of paternity leave for employees immediately following the birth of their children or increasing the amount of paternity pay paid to employees.
In addition, part of the reason why shared parental leave has seen such a low take up has been the low rates of shared paternity pay that are available to employees. A number of organisations are looking to enhanced shared parental leave pay and bring it into line with any enhanced maternity pay. Whilst recent decisions from the EAT have found that it’s not discriminatory to provide for an enhanced maternity pay regime but not an enhanced shared parental pay regime, many organisations are starting to realise the negative impact of such an approach and are looking to equalise the arrangement in respect of this.
Organisations should be reviewing their paternity and parental leave arrangements to ensure that they are taking steps to see what steps could be taken to amend those policies to help address any gender pay caps in their organisation.