What benefits would a longer maternity period bring? What should organisations consider doing? What legal issues may a firm run into? And in what cases might parents need extra time?
Suzanne Horne, partner and employment lawyer at Paul Hastings, says:
"There have been two instances recently where, for very different reasons, there have been calls to extend maternity leave. Firstly the CBI has called on the chancellor to extend paid maternity leave. By seeking to extend paid leave further the CBI is reinforcing women as the primary carers and thus increasing the risk of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
"Secondly a group of mothers campaigned for maternity leave to be extended for those who have gone through premature birth. While we are incredibly sympathetic to those parents whose children are born prematurely, the proposal to extend maternity leave may leave mothers with little or no legal protection at their most vulnerable time if the period of maternity leave is only triggered on the date the baby goes home.
"Current maternity laws in the UK are some of the most generous in the world, with women receiving up to 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay and 52 weeks’ maternity leave. Comparatively the current minimum maternity leave requirement under the EU Pregnant Workers Directive is only 14 weeks.
"Instead of concentrating on extending or changing paid maternity leave the government should instead focus its efforts on improving the shared parental leave system and helping businesses promote and adopt a co-parenting culture."
Jenny Grey, head of EMEA human resources at Citi, says:
"Many employees become parents at a critical stage of their career with us at Citi and we see a competitive advantage in supporting them in their continued success.
"Our experience has shown that line managers play a key role in the way a working parent experiences their leave (maternity/adoption leave, shared parental leave, etc.) as well as their work-life balance. We run workshops for line managers to attend both at the pre-leave and post-leave stage to help them manage the experience well. We also run workshops supporting those employees taking an extended parental leave along with a new dads workshop. What empowers new parents is the opportunity to make choices, and if statutory maternity pay were to be extended then this obviously enables more choice in terms of how long individuals can afford to take leave and when they return to work."