16 March, 2018
The Government has launched an innovative new 'Share the Joy' campaign to encourage more parents to take up the offer of Shared Parental Leave in their baby's first year. The campaign launch follows discouraging research from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ('BEIS') suggesting the uptake for Shared Parental Leave has been as low as 2% of the estimated 285,000 eligible couples since the scheme was launched in 2015, and that up to half of the general public are unaware of the right to Shared Parental Leave.
Whilst BEIS said it was normal for the scheme to take some time to 'bed in', it is hoped that the new campaign will encourage employees to take advantage of the flexible rights available to them.
The £1.5 million campaign aims to encourage parents to 'Share the Joy' and will target them through digital website advertising, social media, adverts on public transport targeting commuters and via a new website providing detailed information, guidance, and feedback from couples who utilized the scheme.
The aim of the Shared Parental Leave scheme is to ensure both parents can share childcare and maintain their career in the baby's first year. Eligible parents are permitted to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby. The time can be taken separately, or they can be at home together for up to 6 months. Parents can also share up to 37 weeks of Statutory Shared Parental Pay paid at £140.98 per week (or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower) which is the same as the last 33 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay. To be eligible, they must be an employee who has worked continuously for the same employer for around 40 weeks.
As well as providing fathers with the opportunity to spend more time with their children during their first year, the scheme is said to benefit employers who can retain talent in their workforce and contribute to closing their gender pay gap. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said:
"We know that flexibility in work is proven to create happier, more loyal and more productive workforces. Providing truly flexible employment options is a key part of the Industrial Strategy; the Government's long-term plan to build a Britain fit for the future by helping businesses create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the UK".
The scheme has attracted criticism for failing to address the financial impact parental leave may have on families. Given that men on average still get paid more than women, it can be a financial sacrifice for the higher-earning partner to take time off work. However, time taken out of their career by women on maternity leave no doubt contributes to the disparity in pay. It is difficult to see how this could be redressed without providing couples with the flexibility to share leave.
The success of comparative schemes in Scandinavian countries has received a considerable amount of media attention in recent years. It is clear from this success that providing couples with choice and flexibility is key. If the Government's 'Share the Joy' campaign is successful in raising awareness, addressing the cultural stigma of fathers taking extended periods of time away from the workplace to provide childcare, and encouraging a greater uptake of Shared Parental Leave, it is feasible this will have a positive impact on the gender pay gap.
Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins said:
"This Government is determined to tackle and ultimately close the gender pay gap. To do this, we need to support women to fulfil their potential in the workplace - and giving women the choice to share childcare with their partners is crucial to that effort."
In a recent sex discrimination claim, Ali v Capita Customer Management Ltd, an employment tribunal held that it was unlawful to only allow 2 weeks' paternity leave on full pay, in comparison to female staff that were entitled to 14 weeks' enhanced maternity leave. It is therefore important for employers, such as Social Housing Associations, ensure they have a fair and legal policy in respect of male and female employees, particularly in relation to enhanced Shared Parental Leave Pay as many will offer enhanced Maternity Pay.
Laura Cieplak at Forbes Solicitors explained that "Given the flexible nature of the scheme, it can be difficult for employers to get to grips with the various different ways employees can take advantage of Shared Parental Leave and the risks of offering different payments to men and women could spell trouble as demonstrated in Ali v Capita". The Employment team here at Forbes have extensive experience advising employers how to ensure that the scheme is utilised in the optimum way for both the employee and the employer; minimising the impact on the workplace and providing the required flexibility to the parent."
If you are looking for more information in relation to Shared Parental Leave or any of our services, please view our Employment & HR section. You can also contact our Employment and HR team by telephone on 0333 207 1135. Alternatively, send your enquiry to us through our online contact form.