A YouGov survey has revealed almost two-fifths of employees who plan to have children in the future would like to take shared parental leave, despite government figures suggesting that initial take-up had been as low as 4% of eligible families.
The results of the survey suggest that businesses should be preparing for more employees to take shared parental leave, as attitudes towards childcare responsibilities begin to shift and more employers decide to enhance pay for parents taking the entitlement.
Currently, the UK offers 52 weeks of shared parental leave, less the weeks spent by the child’s mother on maternity leave. Recently, the Finnish government announced plans to give all parents the same parental leave, in a push to get fathers to spend more time with their children. The paid allowance will increase to a combined 14 months, which works out as 164 days per parent. The EU is also heading that way, with a 2019 directive giving member states three years to provide each parent with at least four months' leave, including two months that cannot be transferred. However, with the current state of affairs regarding Brexit, it remains to be seen if the UK will adopt a similar model.
Changes in societal norms which have led to more fathers feeling able to request time off means families can decide if they want to share responsibilities more equally. Pay, including the gender pay gap, also plays an important factor in this decision and if employers decide to match their enhanced maternity pay, it could be reasonably expected to see an increase in the take up of shared parental leave. However, the recent developments in Ali v Capita and Hextall v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police may put employers’ minds at rest on that point, as the cases were refused permission to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision that it was not discriminatory for employers to enhance maternity pay while not doing the same for shared parental pay.
Another barrier to shared parental leave is that the statutory scheme is complex to navigate for employees and employers alike. Nevertheless, these results from YouGov suggest that a major shift could be upon us so employers need to begin planning for both parents to take extended time away from the workplace to share childcare responsibilities.
While shared parental leave is a good start towards family friendly working, the working practices and management attitudes of the UK’s businesses will need to change too if shared parental leave is ever to gain popularity.