Additional paternity leave regulations introduced prior to the general election by the previous Government look set to be scrapped by the coalition.
In July, Theresa May, minister for women and equalities, hinted that the Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010, which came into force just three weeks before Parliament was dissolved for the election, may be shelved or scrapped altogether.
The Regulations give fathers of babies due on or after 3 April 2011 the right to take up to six months paternity leave, in addition to their existing two week entitlement. However, new dads will only be able to take additional leave if the mother has returned to work, and even then not before the baby is 20 weeks old.
But now the Department of Business has confirmed it is considering whether these Regulations are the best way forward. In its coaltion agreement, the Government stated it would “encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy – including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave”.
A Department for Business spokesman said: “We are currently considering how best to take this commitment forward and will present proposals later in the year. In the short term we realise that businesses need certainty on the timetabling of the additional paternity leave and flexible parental leave regulations.
“We will provide that certainty as soon as possible – but it is absolutely right for the new Government to look at important issues like this with a fresh pair of eyes.”
Many employers will have made changes to their policies and practices in preparation for next April, and the news that ministers are likely to ditch the Regulations in favour of something else is unlikely to be popular, according to John Read, employment law editor at XpertHR.
“I doubt employers will be pleased about having to get to grips with a new set of statutory rules only to have them repealed or changed soon after,” he told Personnel Today.
“I think most people agree that the principle behind the additional paternity leave legislation is a good one, and unless the Government scraps the idea of additional rights for fathers entirely – which seems very unlikely – then whatever system replaces additional paternity leave will need new legislation. That would mean employers getting their heads round yet another set of rules and preparing accordingly.”
Employers’ group the CBI said it supported plans to introduce greater flexibility in the sharing of caring responsibilities between parents, but that employers needed clarity on what was going to happen – and fast.
Gary Campkin, head of employment and human rights, said: “The success of measures introduced to date, such as the right to request flexible working, has been based on close consultation with businesses. Companies require certainty; it is important that any new regulations are accompanied by clear guidance so that companies can plan ahead effectively.”
However, Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said the real problem for employers was not the timetable, but the transferability of leave between parents. “Any system we can contemplate in the short term for extending paternity leave will involve transferring the mother’s entitlement because of the costs involved and that’s why the system is likely to break.”
Leading HR directors also expressed concern at the scope of any new legislation.
Helen Giles, HR director at homelessness charity Broadway, said: “Nobody would want to stop women being able to take time off work to give birth and deal with their infant’s early months. To start factoring in the possibility of having to do this with a significant additional number of their employees – fathers – will very much add to the complexity and cost of running a business,” she warned.
Richard Crouch, head of HR and organisational development at Somerset County Council, said, from an employer’s perspective, any new laws would be yet another drain on resources. “So, the fundamental question is, at this moment in time, can the country afford it? I’m not sure it can,” he added.
XpertHR resources on Additional Paternity Leave Regulations
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