When Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was first introduced in April 2015 it was hailed by many as a significant step forward in reducing gender inequality in the workplace. One year on, questions are being raised about whether the scheme is really that effective.
Under SPL mothers or primary adopters have the ability to cut their maternity leave or adoption leave short (subject to compulsory maternity leave) and share any untaken leave with the other parent of their child. The scheme also entitles parents to share Shared Parental Pay (SPP), which is available for 39 weeks minus any weeks in which statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or statutory adoption pay have been claimed.
My Family Care conducted a survey to mark the one-year anniversary of SPL coming into force. The survey, involving 1,000 parents and 200 businesses, found that the take up rate for SPL is still low. One of the most cited reasons for this is the cost, with more than 80% of participants agreeing that their decision would depend upon their financial situation. The survey also found that how SPL was perceived by employers and colleagues was important, with 50% of men saying that it is perceived negatively at work.
But it’s not all bad news. The survey revealed that 87% of men would like to take longer leave to enable them to be fully involved in the parenting of their child. My Family Care also references cases involving senior employees at high-profile organisations exercising their rights to SPL. Employers such as Citi have been “bowled over” by the number of employees considering the scheme.
With SPL unlikely to disappear anytime soon, it is important that employers acknowledge its presence and take full advantage of the benefits.
As a starting point, they should ensure they have comprehensive written policies in place setting out an employee’s rights and responsibilities in respect of SPL, as well as the procedure that should be adopted. Employers must make sure that the content of such policies is communicated effectively to staff. Discuss arrangements with employees as early as possible so that appropriate cover can be arranged and any potential disruption to the organisation is minimised.
In the same way as maternity pay, employers also have the option of offering enhanced SPP. While there is no statutory requirement to do so enhanced pay is likely to improve the uptake of the scheme among employees.
Demonstrating a strong commitment to SPL is likely to improve an employer’s reputation as an organisation committed to equal opportunities. It also has the potential to increase employee satisfaction, resulting in a more efficient workforce and raising the employer’s ability to recruit and retain high calibre employees. The wider implications of increased gender equality in the workforce is also something that should not be overlooked.
While recent survey results have cast doubt on the effectiveness of SPL it is still very much in its early stages. Demand for the scheme remains, and employers must be prepared to respond to this.
Chris Cook is a partner and head of the employment team at SA Law