Should employers enhance Shared Parental Leave to level the playing field?

Since its introduction in 2015 Shared Parental Leave continues to be a hot topic – and frequently debated. Is the legislation effective? What is the take-up like? And what does it mean for working fathers and secondary carers?

Amongst the many questions, one comes to the fore regularly: should employers enhance Shared Parental Leave? We know the benefits that enhanced maternity leave offers for mothers, so on the face of it enhanced SPL is a win-win? Maybe not.

Earlier this month, the question of enhanced SPL reached the courts in two sex discrimination cases. Both cases questioned whether it is unlawful sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 for men to be paid less on shared parental leave than woman on maternity leave. The Court of Appeal ruled that male employees taking SPL cannot be compared to female employees on maternity leave because the purpose of maternity leave is different and is to enable women to recover following pregnancy and giving birth.

“In terms of public policy, this decision makes some sense”, says Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Coaching & Consultancy at Bright Horizons. “It protects against 'equalising' downwards! When there was a danger of a tribunal claim for employers enhancing Maternity pay and not Shared Parental Leave pay, then the cheapest and least risky option was to take away the well-paid maternity policy. An unfortunate outcome.”

“It's true that for a birth mother, the two weeks' compulsory maternity leave (four weeks' in a factory) is simply not enough for recovery and a birth mother would not be on an equal footing with her male, or female, partner who has not given birth at that point in needing a period of enhanced paid leave. She is indeed recovering, possibly breast-feeding; and not 'only' caring for the child.”

Through our research and hearing first-hand from our clients and employees, we know the important role that fathers and secondary carers play in a child’s life. A nuclear family when one parent works and one parent cares is no longer the norm and many families now have both parents working full- or part-time and sharing parenting responsibilities equally.

Arguably either partner in a birth or adoption should have their transition acknowledged and be enabled to care; from day one. Greater support for working fathers and carers should complement - but not be detrimental to - the specific support offered to mothers, ultimately improve equality at work and at home. Better for families, and better for the level playing field at work.

At Bright Horizons, we’re proud to offer a range of coaching solutions to help businesses retain and develop their employees through life's big transitions – from expectant parent coaching to manager coaching. Coaching has a valuable role to play not only in increasing the retention of women returning to work after maternity leave, but increasingly within other groups such as new fathers and secondary carers, ensuring that their ability to manage their work commitments is maximised, but also ensures that they feel valued and, in turn, value their employer more. Line managers are critical to successful parent transitions. We provide work-shops and webinars, online tools, e-learning resources and one-to-one coaching to enhance managers’ capabilities and help them feel confident and positive should a member of their team be planning to take leave.

If you’d like to find out more about our Coaching Services and how we might support your company and employees, complete our get in touch form.