Shared Parental Leave tends to be seen as a complicated matter with the majority of the UK population saying they are unclear about the maternity and paternity entitlements that are on offer come April 2015.

The current system may seem clearer: the onus is on ‘mum’ who gets up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and 39 weeks pay (whether statutory or enhanced by their employer) while dad gets one or two weeks’ ordinary paternity leave and (lower) pay, unless he is one of the few pioneers who have made use of Additional Paternity Leave, which is only possible if his partner goes back to work and hands over the leave after week 26.

In 2014 the majority of dads still don’t take more than a week off to care for their new arrival because there’s little financial incentive, it’s stereotypically ‘not the norm’, and frankly, many employers do little to encourage it.

However, change is definitely coming and everyone is interested. For any parents of babies due or adopted on or after April 5th 2015 Shared Parental Leave will be an option. It has the potential to be a much fairer system for all, encouraging dads to be hands-on and engaged from the start.

In simple terms Shared Parental Leave enables two partners (of any gender) to choose how they share that first year’s leave as long as they have 26 weeks’ service and satisfy certain criteria to show both partners are economically active. Birth mothers must still take a minimum of two weeks’ maternity leave and pay for health reasons. After that, the remaining 50 weeks leave, including 37 weeks’ statutory pay can be shared between them flexibly, even stopping and starting again or both being on leave at the same time – IF the mother elects to share her leave. If she does not, then maternity leave and pay remain as before. Ordinary paternity leave and pay also remain in place. Additional Paternity Leave will no longer be an option.

But what does this all mean to employers? In May 2014, My Family Care ran a poll: how concerned are you about what SPL will mean for your business? A whopping 75% of employers were terrified (or at least slightly worried) about what was coming.

The biggest concern for employers was around actually implementing the new provision for staff, with the internal administrative changes. Companies also revealed anxieties over managing resources during periods of leave, communicating the changes to staff and up-skilling managers to have better conversation in this area.

There was also a lack of certainty around pay. Ultimately what you, as a company, choose to do here will depend on whether you want your employees to take it up and how it fits in with your and their strategic goals.

One company that has been very proactive with implementing the changes is banking group, Citi, which has 10,000 UK-based employees. On average 5 per cent of these become new parents each year. Carolanne Minashi, Managing Director EMEA Head of Diversity, Employee Relations and Engagement at the company says: “If you’re a company like Citi that offers their staff significant benefits then the introduction of SPL provides a great opportunity to explore what the policy could offer in terms of reputation, brand building and culture. It is companies like ours where we want to offer our staff a family-friendly place to work in, that the changes will give companies a lot of thinking to do – and that takes time.

“What the government is aiming for is to give parents as much choice as possible on how they want to manage the care of their child and once you stick to that principle it’s not confusing.”

Many employers who already offer very attractive maternity pay are facing a dilemma; if they don’t also enhance SPL, then what message does that send to employees? If they enhance the pay they’ll have to deal not only with the cost and but also potentially more ‘disruption’ around the stop/start options for taking leave. Realistically it’s going to come down to each individual firm’s decision – some will and some won’t enhance pay, others may not enhance pay but will strongly encourage shared leave, culturally.

At least it has forced employers to focus on the whole issue of how they support working mothers and fathers. And potentially moves us all beyond seeing childcare as a ‘women’s issue’!

Ultimately, moving forwards to a place where parenting is gender-neutral means mindset changes for both men and women, as well as their employers.

For more information on Shared Parental Leave, visit the My Family Care website where, together with law firm Hogan Lovells, they have created a set of online resources for businesses in need of advice. Visit https://www.myfamilycare.co.uk/news/update/shared-parental-leave-hr-resource-pack.html.

Jennifer Liston-SmithJennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Coaching & Consultancy at My Family Care
Jennifer draws on 20 years’ experience in consulting, training and coaching with major organisations and has since 2005 been one the UK pioneers of maternity coaching supporting leading employers in settings such as global law firms, investment banks, accountancy firms and other sectors. Her work is covered in the national and industry press as well as frequent conference speaking & writing.
Jennifer’s professional development background includes a Law degree from Brasenose College, Oxford, a Masters in Psychology and the leading Post-Graduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Supervision, with Distinction, at Oxford Brookes University Business School.
She is the mother of two boys aged 10 and 7 and understands the challenges of a senior role combined with family life.

About My Family Care
My Family Care is the leading provider of family friendly solutions to companies in the UK and internationally. Our vision is to prove that the employee who combines career and family successfully can be the most engaged and productive member of any team. My Family Care services include our award winning Emergency Childcare, Consultancy & Training, Manager’s Toolkit,  Care Search, Backup Care, and Life Transition Coaching. Services are accessed via the unique Work+Family Space, a customised website created for working parents and carers. www.myfamilycare.co.uk.

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