Paternity leave: Wait until your father gets home

The issue of paternity leave is now high on the HR agenda following the introduction of rules allowing new fathers to take up to six months of leave. A recent IRS survey, Paternity and Adoption Leave, published exclusively on XpertHR, found opinion split among employers on plans to allow men to take over from their partners in the second half of a baby’s first year. Half saw it as problematic, half did not.

Stephen Alambritis, of the Federation of Small Businesses, warns that the legislation could place a burden on small businesses because the proposals allow fathers to take up to six months’ leave after mothers return to work. “You have two employers who will now need to communicate with each other, which means more paperwork. For small businesses, the issue with maternity and paternity leave is not the pay or the leave, but the paperwork.”

Su Cacioppo, personnel and legal director at pub chain JD Wetherspoon, warns that there is also greater potential for disruption. “When you’ve got two people able to share a period of leave, what you are then doing is disrupting two jobs and two companies.”

Facts and figures

90% of employers had at least one employee on maternity leave over a one-year period

22% of organisations agreed to all flexible working requests from returning mothers in a one-year period

10% of organisations rejected all flexible working requests from returning mothers in a one-year period

90% of women return to work after maternity leave

2.7% of men took paternity leave over a two-year period

41% of organisations offer enhanced maternity pay

55% of organisations have a formal ‘keeping in touch’ policy

52% of organisations offer paternity leave above the statutory provision

39% of organisations offer adoption leave above the statutory provision

Source: IRS

Lack of take-up

This could be compounded by a lack of notice, says Bobby Davis, HR director at Hyde Housing Association. “For paternity leave, potentially you are going to get as little as eight weeks, according to the draft legislation, which could be a real problem.”

But regardless of an organisation’s views, it seems unlikely that they will be inundated with requests for six months off. Even in the government’s draft consultation document, Choice for families: additional paternity leave and pay, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimated that only between 4% and 8% of eligible fathers would apply for the additional leave.

The IRS survey found that on average, just 2.7% of employees had taken the existing two weeks’ statutory paternity leave offered in the past two years. One reason commonly cited for the low take-up is that men cannot afford a drop in pay – yet even in organisations where paternity pay is higher than the statutory minimum, there had not been a correlating increase in uptake.

Amanda Hughes, HR director at Harlow College, says she expects the changes to have little effect. “I don’t think initially it is going to make much difference. In the past three years we’ve only had six people take paternity leave. I think the idea of taking a cut in salary is unappealing. Men tend to prefer to use their annual leave.”

Sharing the caring

But the changes could go some way towards equality and may help to even out the playing field for women, says Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. “People will no longer think ‘it’s bad to have women because they are the ones that have babies and they are the ones who are going to take off the time’; people might start recognising that parents want to share that caring role.”

The changes could be good for the estimated one-fifth of women who earn more than their partners – particularly if employers make the option more attractive to fathers and decide to enhance paternity pay.

Paternity leave – the facts

From April 2011, men will be able to take up to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave. The extra leave must be taken before the child’s first birthday and the mother must have returned to work.

Men will be entitled to additional statutory paternity pay, but only up to the point when the mother’s statutory maternity or adoption pay would have ended. For example, if a man takes over at 26 weeks, he would be entitled to paternity pay for 13 weeks, followed by unpaid leave for 13 weeks.

Paternity pay is either £124.88 per week or 90% of the father’s salary, whichever is the lower.

At consultancy Accenture, which has about 10,000 UK staff, Susanna Bartlett, employee relations manager, says family-friendly policies are seen as a key retention tool. The company has enhanced its maternity, paternity and adoption provisions in recent years. “We implemented a maternity returners programme and it was having a good effect. We decided to increase the maternity allowance. Our maternity leave was six months of full pay, and in 2006-2007 we increased it to nine months.”

The company has since seen the number of women returning for at least 12 months rise to more than 90%, up from 75% in 2004.

However, for smaller organisations this would be simply unaffordable, says Hazel Dodd, finance and personnel director at Can Mezzanine, a charity with just 17 staff.

“We have a limit on what we can do financially, especially with the forthcoming financial year. Bigger commercial organisations can offer more but we try to make up for this by offering more flexibility around working hours and working from home options.”

Return to work

Flexible working is at the heart of the government’s employment legislation agenda, but another of its initiatives – the ‘keeping in touch days’ introduced in 2007 – has received mixed reviews from businesses. Some employers argue that calculating pay for these days is problematic, while others feel such isolated days at work are of limited value.

Some employers, however, believe that they do enable an easier return to work. Lynne Miller, HR director at Kwik-Fit Financial Services, says it can be particularly useful at her company, where 70% of its 1,000 staff are customer-facing.

“It helps to avoid the scenario of somebody returning to work and using sickness leave if they begin to struggle. Coming back is very difficult and your confidence suffers when you are off work. I have found that being able to offer this option to people makes the prospect of coming back less daunting,” she says.

Free model policy

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