August 14, 2018

Paternity Leave Reform Plans Considered by Government

In March the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published its paper on reforming workplace policies to support fathers balance their parental responsibilities and work – the take up (or lack of it) of shared paternity leave being the particular concern.

As employer will be aware, the original two-week statutory paid paternity leave was introduced in 2003 followed by the legislatively cumbersome shared parental leave policy in 2015, which allows fathers to use the paid leave that would have otherwise been taken by the mother.
Although intended to encourage fathers to take longer paternity, any increase in uptake has been limited.
The WEC says that the historical lack of workplace support for fathers both reflects and reinforces cultural assumptions about traditional gender roles – the father is the breadwinner, the mother is the primary carer – whereas the social changes taking place in  the lives of men and women means this is no longer strictly the case.
In fact, evidence suggests fathers are increasingly taking an equal share of the childcare when children are young.
However, the current weekly Statutory Paternity Pay set at £145.18, or 90% of the individual’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower), is highly unlikely to encourage fathers to take paternity leave in homes where they are the main breadwinners – or, if it is taken, is likely to have a significant impact on family finances at a time when family costs are likely to increase.
After hearing evidence from employer organisations, unions, researchers, think-tanks and experts, the WEC came to these comclusions on the current policies supporting fathers in the workplace:
  1. The current legislative regime does not deliver, despite good intentions
  2. This is particularly the case for less well-off fathers
  3. The right to request flexible working has not created the necessary cultural change in the workplace
  4. The more recently introduced shared parental leave policy, intended to allow fathers to share care in their child’s first year, will not meet its objective for most fathers
  5. Although the Government has campaigned to promote shared parental leave, it has had limited effect
The key recommendations from the WEC report suggest the Government should consider:
  • Fathers who are employees should be entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments as a day-one right
  • Statutory paternity pay should be paid at 90 per cent of the father’s pay (capped for higher earners) to ensure that all fathers, regardless of income, can be at home around the time of their child’s birth
  • The costs and benefits of introducing a new policy of 12 weeks’ dedicated leave for fathers in the child’s first year to replace shared parental leave when it reviews this policy in 2018
  • Seeking to legislate immediately to make a reality the Prime Minister’s call for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to
  • Harmonise workplace rights for fathers who are agency workers or self-employed with those for employed fathers where practical
  • The benefits of amending the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 to add an additional characteristic of ‘paternity’
The Government says it wants to “enable families to share caring roles more easily and equitably to deliver positive employment outcomes”. However, in rejecting many of the report’s recommendations, the Government accepted the need for change but said such difficulties surrounding paternity leave required workable solutions.

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About the author

Peter Collyer

Employment Tribunal Consultant