How to encourage take-up of shared parental leave



Luke Hutchings outlines how employers can make shared parental leave work for their employees, and offer support for new parents

What is shared parental leave?

Shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015 and, despite being seen as a breakthrough for parents who work and want to divide childcare equally between them, the uptake has been slow. In fact, just 3,000 people took SPL in the first three months of 2016.

SPL allows parents to divide their leave between each other, provided they meet set criteria. To qualify individuals must share responsibility for the child with their partner (married, civil or otherwise), joint adopter or other parent; must have been employed by the same employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date; and must stay with the same employer while taking SPL. The partner must have been working for at least 26 weeks and earned £390 in at least 13 of the 66 weeks. The stumbling block in uptake seems to be pay; while workers receive 90 per cent of their pay for the first six weeks of leave, it is then reduced to statutory pay, which is currently set at £139.78 per week.

Gender inequality is often cited as one of the main reasons the UK is yet to see greater take-up of leave. Sweden implemented shared leave in 1974, and has since introduced time off specifically allocated to fathers where they are encouraged to ‘use it or lose it’. Some 80 per cent of leave is also granted for the first 390 days of 480 days of leave available, resulting in around 85 per cent of men now taking time off.

What can employers do to improve the SPL uptake?

1. Enlist the help of your own employees. They are the ones who will use the scheme – unless you have their support and buy-in, they will be unlikely to take advantage of it. Get their input on how the plan should be implemented, and you’ll see a rise in those who use SPL as the message is communicated to the wider company.

2. Ensure that your SPL programme is aligned with your maternity or paternity package. If the two are not in sync, then you are putting hurdles in the way, which are difficult for your staff to overcome.

3. Embed it into the culture of your organisation. Any policy you introduce needs to be actively promoted throughout your business and in line with your company values. If your business revolves around presenteeism (which isn’t good for anyone), then it’s not going to work alongside a family-friendly working environment.

4. Keep on top of administrative duties associated with SPL. Maintaining records is important; for example, an employer has 14 days to request a birth certificate to evidence the birth, and the other employer’s address, following the employee’s notice of taking up SPL. Records must be kept for three years and cumulative weeks of SPL should be recorded to avoid any individual going over their entitlement. Keeping on top of the minor details will show employees your commitment to making SPL work for them.

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