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Family leave for employers and employees

May 22, 2018

There’s been a lot of noise on the gender pay gap recently. Research has suggested 2 of the key contributing reasons to this gap are the part-time pay penalty and a greater responsibility on women for childcare and other unpaid caring responsibilities.

A TUC study claims that women who become mothers before the age of 33 earn 15% less than their female colleagues without children.

Maternity leave

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) undertook joint research into maternity leave. This looked at the experiences of over 3,250 employees and over 3000 employers and found widespread discrimination and disadvantage. The 2016 report, found that:

  • 77% of employees claimed to have experienced a negative or discriminatory experience either during their pregnancy, their maternity leave or on their return to work.
  • 68% of women submitted flexible working requests – whilst around 75% were approved, many reported some kind of negative treatment or experience due to their flexible working arrangements.
  • 20% of mothers reported harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and/or colleagues.
  • 11% of mothers reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where mothers in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.
  • 10% of mothers said their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission made a number of recommendations influencing the government in strengthening the law on recruitment questions asked in the HR process.
70% of the employers surveyed stated that women should declare pregnancies at interview stage with 25% feeling it was reasonable to ask women about motherhood plans during the recruitment process.

The Government also confirmed that the Health and Safety Executive will aim to ensure any general risk assessment information deals with potential risks to employees (in particular those working within the care, leisure and other service industries where 54% of new and expectant mothers experienced risks to, or effects on, their health and safety).
So while some women continue to face difficulties, it seems these kind issues will only be solved by changing attitudes not just through legislative changes.

What can your business do?
  • Ensure that your maternity and family leave policy is robust and comprehensive giving your employees access to the information they need.
  • Check you have a robust process for pregnancy risk assessments.
  • Train your managers to avoid discriminatory questions in the interview process and to make appointment decisions on the basis of ability only. Fears about whether a candidate may take maternity leave in the future should not form part of any recruitment decision.
Shared parental leave

Shared parental leave (SPL) has now been available to employees since 2015. Surveys have found the decision to take the leave depended heavily on financial circumstances and the level of pay offered (55% said this was the main consideration – in the majority of households the male is still the higher earner).

Scandinavian countries have a much higher take up rate – 90% – but their shared parental pay is more than 80% of earnings. In addition to financial considerations, 47% of employees said their partners did not want to share the leave, and 46% also mentioned a lack of awareness about it.

A separate piece of research by Totaljobs found a similar result – 86 of its 628 respondents had had a child in the past year. 31% of the 86 took SPL; 48% did not; and 21% were not eligible.

The employees they surveyed mentioned similar barriers to take up – 85% could not afford it; 81% were concerned about any detrimental impact on their careers; and 78% said that lack of awareness was a factor.

58% of the women and 53% of the men also said that mothers preferred to be the main carer.

The take up of shared parental leave between parents is likely to increase as awareness grows, and the Government still intends to go ahead with its proposed extension of shared parental leave to working grandparents.

Adoption leave

It is 3 years since adoption leave and pay were brought more closely into line with maternity leave and pay.
Back in April 2015, it was reported that more than half of mothers who returned to work relied on grandparents for childcare. Research from the TUC suggests that 7 million grandparents provide regular childcare for their grandchildren.

Around 1.9 million are reported to have given up work, reduced their hours or taken time off work for this.
Under the proposed extension, the overall amount of leave and statutory pay will remain the same, but the mother/primary adopter may choose to share it with the father/partner and/or also a nominated grandparent.

Grandparents may be keener than fathers to take SPL as they are more likely to be established in their career or considering reducing their hours anyway, may be more financially stable and may welcome the opportunity to take some time out to care for a new grandchild.

The Reality of SPL

With paid leave on the table, it’s likely that more people will take advantage of it. For example, mothers and fathers are equally entitled to family leave when a new baby arrives but right now only 22 percent of fathers take advantage of it. You can expect that number to jump somewhat.

Who Will Take Leave?

While having a baby or adopting a child is one of the top reasons for paid leave, the new plan isn’t just for growing families. Many of these plans have been limited strictly to parents taking care of children—for example, a sick child can also be a reason for a leave, or the placement of a foster child. The leave also extends to employees taking care of elderly parents or grandparents.
Paid family leave is crucial for employees, but its impact on businesses will depend on how these policies are implemented, and the makeup of your workforce.

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