Most employers offer generous paternity schemes

Eight
out of 10 UK employers offer relatively generous paternity leave schemes,
according to research by IRS Employment Review.

Although
there is no statutory right to paternity leave until the Employment Bill 2001
becomes law, the survey reveals that employers generally allow fathers time off
when their babies are born, with nearly half offering new dads at least one
week’s leave. 

However,
the research finds that UK employers are giving their staff mixed messages
about family-friendly policies, particularly when parents return to work. Just
one fifth of employers operate parental leave schemes for employees with young
children that go beyond the basic legal requirements. And despite the fears
about the burdens on business, in reality parental leave is a little-used asset
because it is unpaid and most people – especially strapped-for-cash working
parents – simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

The
key findings are based on 122 interviews with senior human resource managers
conducted in April 2002 across private and public sectors. 

There
is now less than a year to go before the currently planned legislative changes
are expected to take effect (as a result of the Employment Bill now before
Parliament).  Other key findings in the
IRS research include:


Two-thirds of employers report that they do not currently meet the leave
requirements of the Employment Bill 2001 and will need to make changes to their
policies and practices.


More than half of employers offer maternity provisions that go beyond what is
legally required.


Most employers offer parental leave because they have to.


Motivations for family-friendly arrangements (ranked in order of preference):


Compliance with legal provisions (93 per cent)


Helps maintain effective equality policies (78 per cent) and to enhance the
image of the organisation (69 per cent).


Helps recruit/retain skilled workers (62 per cent) and reduces absenteeism (46
per cent) were ranked lowest.

Drawbacks
of offering parental leave (cited by fewer employers than those who extol the
benefits of family-friendly arrangements):


Cost of providing cover for absent parents 
(61 per cent)


Difficulties in arranging suitable cover, particularly for short periods of
time (44 per cent).


Resentment from workers who are not parents (36 per cent) ranks higher than the
apparent bureaucratic burden of family-friendly arrangements – 15per cent of
respondents reported this as a drawback.

Janet
Egan, who carried out the research for IRS Employment Review said: “It’s good
news for fathers; paternity leave is has been endorsed as far as employers are
concerned. And this situation will improve with the impending legislation; HR
mangers anticipate a frenzy of activity in the next 12 months.  

"These
are turbulent times for the UK’s workforce; employers are steps ahead of the
Government in certain areas of work-life balance policies but lacking in
others. The clear message from our research is that the burdens on business are
not as extensive as once feared.  By
next year’s Father’s Day, we’re likely to see a very different picture for
working parents.”

The
full survey is published in IRS Employment Review and is available on its
website www.irsemploymentreview.com

By Ben Willmott

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