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How can employers support shared parental leave?

In 2015, the UK Government first introduced Shared Parental Leave (or SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), which enables parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them after the arrival of their little one.  The purpose of this was to allow parents to make a choice about who would spend time at home looking after the new arrival, which could involve one parent spending the majority of the time at home, or it could be more evenly shared.

However, data has shown uptake of the scheme to be very low, with only two percent of eligible couples accessing it in 2019.  Low statutory levels of pay, and men not feeling able to approach their employer, have been cited as reasons for this.  The scheme has also been criticised for being overly complex.

In recent weeks we have seen International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday celebrated, but within the context of reports into the negative impacts of Covid on women.  For example, whilst this will not be the case in every household, a recent UN report highlights a disproportionality in childcare responsibilities as a result of Covid-19, with many mothers taking the lead on home schooling.  But shared parental leave is not just a “women’s issue” – it impacts on the whole family.  The TUC have also claimed that SPL is “not working” and are campaigning for change.

So what can employers do to support employees?

  • Awareness – Are employees even aware that SPL is an option?  It may be somewhere in your employee handbook or intranet, but it may also be helpful to ensure that managers are aware of it so that it can be discussed when an employee advises them of their news.  Also, this conversation should not just happen with the mother – fathers and partners should be made aware also.  If you undertake regular information briefings for employees about policies and rules, you can schedule this topic on the agenda from time-to-time (even if nobody is pregnant that you know of, as this could be helpful at the planning stage).
  • Don’t assume – when discussing plans with employees, take care to avoid assumptive questions (e.g. “Will your wife take the first year off?”), and instead ensure employees feel able to discuss SPL if they wish (e.g. “Do you have any questions about how Shared Parental Leave might work?”).
  • Equal enhancements – Some employers will offer enhanced maternity pay (or Occupational Maternity Pay) to mothers, which is above the rate of Statutory Maternity Pay.  If so, it may be beneficial to review your policies to ensure that equal enhancements are available to fathers and partners undertaking SPL.  A policy that offers 100% enhanced maternity pay to those on maternity leave, but only ShPP to those undertaking SPL, is unlikely to encourage people to consider SPL, and may also sit uncomfortably with your Equality and Diversity Policy!

None of these suggestions are about trying to force families to use Shared Parental Leave, but rather supporting families to make the right choices for them, based on knowledge of their rights.  If you would like support managing any type of parental leave, a member of the View HR team is here to help – please get in touch.