Jo Swinson: shared parental leave “no more complex” than maternity leave

Shared parental leave is "no more complex" than maternity leave laws – Jo Swinson, minister for employment relations
Shared parental leave is "no more complex" than maternity leave laws – Jo Swinson, minister for employment relations

Shared parental leave, perhaps the most significant piece of employment law to be passed by the coalition Government, is upon us. Employment relations minister Jo Swinson explains why employers should see the new regime for parents as an opportunity.

Parents of babies due on or after 5 April 2015, or children adopted from this date, are eligible for shared parental leave.

The rules have been designed to be as straightforward for employers and parents as possible, and are no more complex than the current maternity leave laws which serve the three quarters of a million mums who have babies each year”

After years of policy development and discussions with employers, industry bodies and working parents, I’m really excited that parents can now start taking the opportunity to decide on the childcare arrangements that work best for their family, rather than being restricted by outdated rules on maternity leave that assume every family is the same.

For employers, I believe this is a real opportunity for workplaces to embrace the benefits of flexible working.

Yes, it’s true that more dads will be taking time out of work – but it also means mums can come back to work earlier if they want to.

Plus, unlike maternity leave, employees can stop and start shared parental leave and return to work for key periods and projects. Both mothers and fathers can maintain a strong link to the workplace, while playing a full part in the vital first months of their child’s life; the policy also has an increased provision for “keeping-in-touch” days so that employees can stay updated on key developments at work before their return, or even phase their return with a period of part-time working.

Any nervousness from employers about these rules will, I believe, be resolved once businesses see how greater flexibility brings benefits for everyone. The rules have been designed to be as straightforward for employers and parents as possible, and are no more complex than the current maternity leave laws that serve the three-quarters of a million mums who have babies each year.

It won’t cost any more than maternity leave as shared parental leave pay will be refunded to employers – 92% can be claimed back from the Government. It’s not necessary for employers to speak to the employers of the other partner; everything is arranged through the employee.

My hope is that the outdated assumption that childcare is only an issue for mums will be firmly put to bed as shared parental leave becomes more established. Dads have a crucial role in early childcare too – and, in fact, a survey conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last month found that seven in 10 dads regret missing milestones in their child’s early years.

My hope is that the outdated assumption that childcare is only an issue for mums will be firmly put to bed”

Nearly one-third of fathers surveyed said that they regretted not taking any, or enough, leave after the birth of their child, while more than one in five said that they weren’t there as much as they’d liked to have been in their child’s first years due to work.

Above all, it’s important for employers to remember that shared parental leave is not optional – in the same way that an employer cannot refuse maternity leave to a pregnant woman, you cannot refuse to let a new dad take an extended period of leave in his child’s first year.

Our survey found that two-thirds of men who are thinking of having children in the future said that, when they do, they are likely or certain to speak to their employer about sharing leave. If your business has not yet thought about shared parental leave, now is the time to ensure that you are up to speed and prepared for the new rules.

Jo Swinson

About Jo Swinson

Jo Swinson is non-executive director of Clear Returns and a consultant on workplace diversity. She was formerly minister for employment relations and the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire.

4 Responses to Jo Swinson: shared parental leave “no more complex” than maternity leave

  1. Jeremy Mansell 1 Apr 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    A slightly one-sided rosey-coloured spectacles spin on it, in my view, e.g.
    “it also means mums can come back to work earlier if they want to” – THEY ALWAYS COULD apart from for the first few weeks following childbirth, which has not changed
    “The rules …. are no more complex than the current maternity leave laws” – maybe not in terms of diction but does Ms Swinson really believe that the application in practice is no more complex, trying to maintain productivity, efficiency, continuity and cover for 3 (possibly 6 if both parents are employed by the same employer) disparate, relatively unpredictable (apart from in the mind of the employee) periods of absence?
    I wonder what the growing economies, the increasingly significant competitors to UK plc, do in these circumstances? Do India, China, the South American countries encourage their subjects to expect their employer to acquiesce to the employee’s preference to change the existing agreed employment relationship because the employee and/or their partner have chosen to have a child? I would be very surprised.
    Yes retention of experience and skills, parents sharing parenting, etc. is all good but the employee must accept that they have a responsibility to their employer a well as to their personal family life

  2. Fiona Sheehan 1 Apr 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    The rules are straightforward and no more complex than maternity leave laws! I beg to differ. It would be really helpful if politicians considered the practicalities of running schemes before implementing legislation. The ACAS guidance gives little additional help in explaining how businesses are meant to manage the nuts and bolts of the logistics of such legislation. When you introduce two businesses with different policies with different entitlement rules into the mix it is very difficult for employees to work out what is for the best for their family.
    I believe that flexibility is a good thing but fear this is going to be a nightmare in practical terms. Maybe Jo Swinson should go into a business and see the issues of practicality that we are facing.

  3. Doug Hall 1 Apr 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    I fully agree with Fiona and Jeremy. Ms. Swinson and her colleagues really do not live in the real world and as in previous legislative disasters, in trying to achieve ideological targets, fail to foresee the negative impact on businesses.

  4. Rebecca 2 Apr 2015 at 9:34 am #

    Absolutely. The paperwork and legislation are really complex, and yet again the burden is on the employer to figure it all out.
    I agree in principle with the idea of SPL, but practically it is a nightmare.
    I’ve been to 3 legal briefings and read numerous articles and am still not totally clear about who should be doing what & when.