HR professionals criticise complexity of shared parental leave

HR professionals welcome shared parental leave but criticise complexity
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The HR profession supports shared parental leave in principle, but it is concerned that the new right is complex to administer, according to research.

Shared parental leave is “a benefit to society, but a burden on employers”. These words from an HR professional taking part in the 2015 XpertHR Benchmarking survey on shared parental leave capture HR’s mixed views on the new right.

HR welcomes shared parental leave in principle, but there are widespread concerns about the complexity of the legislation and how it will work in practice.

Shared parental leave means more admin for HR

A number of HR professionals surveyed by XpertHR expressed doubt that the Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 in their current form are the most effective way to enable both parents to share in the care of their babies or adopted children.

The wording of the legislation itself has attracted widespread criticism. A lack of plain English makes the legislation “user-unfriendly”, according to one private-sector HR professional. Another describes it as “confusing, badly-drafted legislation, which imposes an intolerable burden on employers. Why couldn’t we just enhance paternity leave and pay?”

Many respondents feel that too much of how shared parental leave will work in practice has been left up to HR to interpret. Nearly half agree or strongly agree that “the introduction of shared parental leave has created a significant administrative workload”.

Numerous respondents used the words “minefield” and “administrative nightmare” when describing their own experience of drafting shared parental leave policies. Many also bemoan the late arrival of guidance from either the Government or Acas on how to implement shared parental leave.

HR expects low take-up

Will the take-up of shared parental leave justify the amount of work involved in putting policies in place? HR has its doubts. One respondent says shared parental leave is “far too complex for both employers and employees. As a consequence, we expect little take-up.”

The new right applies to babies due or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015, so the first requests for shared parental leave are likely to be just starting to come through.

So far, around 8% of organisations have received an employee request to take shared parental leave.

Unaffordable for many

Pay could prove the decisive factor in whether or not some couples take shared parental leave.

One in five organisations surveyed by XpertHR is offering enhanced shared parental pay and a similar proportion has yet to decide. But the level of shared parental leave take-up at some organisations may hinge on whether or not employers enhance shared parental pay beyond the statutory minimum.

“People are not going to give up their rights to enhanced maternity/adoption pay to take shared parental pay,” says a public-sector HR professional. “Only in a minority of cases will it be beneficial to take this leave.”

Shared parental leave consequently risks being an unaffordable option for some eligible couples. One private-sector-services HR professional says: “I imagine that shared parental leave is going to be a more viable option for high earners, who are more likely to be able to afford to take it.”

This could also create further administrative problems for employers: “Unfortunately, these are likely to be the employees for whom businesses are less likely to be able to provide short-term cover.”

HR united in supporting the aims of shared parental leave

Last week, employment relations minister Jo Swinson wrote on Personnel Today of her hope “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”.

For all its concerns about how shared parental leave will work in practice, HR strongly supports its underlying principles and purpose. Not one respondent questions whether or not it was right for the Government to introduce legislation to encourage both parents to take equal responsibility for childcare.

Many see shared parental leave as a necessary step towards societal change. One manufacturing-and-production-sector HR professional comments: “Anything that supports the family and enhances the role of both parents in the upbringing of children has to be good.”

  • XpertHR Benchmarking subscribers can access and drill down into the full results of the survey and generate bespoke reports on how their organisation compares.
Michael Carty

About Michael Carty

I'm the editor of XpertHR benchmarking. I'm interested in all aspects of HR data - how it's collated, how it's utilised and interpreted and the stories it tells. I'm also interested in the latest information and data on all aspects of the work of HR and related disciplines (whether to do with employment or economics) around the world – and how social media enable HR information and debate to spread and evolve across geographic boundaries. I’ve been part of the XpertHR team since 20 August 2001, working on the site in a wide variety of editorial roles as it expanded from its unnamed, pre-launch incarnation to the HR information powerhouse it is today. Further back, I worked as a writer at Incomes Data Services (IDS), and before that did time in research and writing roles at a banking consultancy in the City of London and at the Open University Business School.

10 Responses to HR professionals criticise complexity of shared parental leave

  1. chscott 8 Apr 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    Additional paternity leave of 20 weeks became available for babies born after 3 April 2011. When this was introduced it attracted the same concerns and attracted many hours of learned papers and comment as shared parental leave is. According to all reports the take up of APL has been minimal (none in my experience with my clients) and in my humble opinion SPL will be minimal. However we can only wait and see.

    • Michael Carty
      Michael Carty 9 Apr 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, chscott. As the article mentions, most respondents to our survey who have a sense of how many employees may take shared parental leave over the coming year would seem to expect low take-up of the new right.

      A number of respondents to the survey also drew similar comparisons to additional paternity leave, and noted that take-up of APL (and, indeed, even awareness of it) had tended to be low. Some took this as a potential indicator for likely levels of demand for shared parental leave among their employees.

      I’m intrigued by this theme around awareness versus take-up. If take-up of additional paternity leave was low at your organisation, what do you think was the main reason for this? Was awareness a factor?

    • Michael Carty 10 Apr 2015 at 6:21 am #

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, chscott. As the article
      mentions, most respondents to our survey who have a sense of how many
      employees may take shared parental leave over the coming year would seem
      to expect low take-up of the new right.

      A number of respondents to the survey also drew similar comparisons
      to additional paternity leave, and noted that take-up of APL (and,
      indeed, even awareness of it) had tended to be low. Some took this as a
      potential indicator for likely levels of demand for shared parental
      leave among their employees.

      I’m intrigued by this theme around awareness versus take-up. If
      take-up of additional paternity leave was low at your organisation, what
      do you think was the main reason for this? Was awareness a factor?

      • chscott 10 Apr 2015 at 5:16 pm #

        Michael, low take up of APL was never a case of lack of awareness in any of my client companies or in the public arena generally; there was as much publicity around it as there is SPL. I took a straw poll around the table at a business meeting not long ago about this and the chaps said that the 2 week paternity leave was more than enough, and in fact some only took a few days and went back to work. At another event the mums weren’t interested in APL and many wished the chaps hadn’t taken paternity leave because they got in the way while Mum was trying to bond with the baby and get a routine going, plus chaps are normally only home in the evenings. My impression is that even if SPL was fully paid not many chaps would want to take it. As bb points out, some person in an office (probably an intern or researcher) thought it was a good idea and off it goes under ‘family friendly’ legislation. Watch this space!

        • Michael Carty 13 Apr 2015 at 11:29 am #

          Thank you for the insights into how your clients perceive shared parental leave – and into how they perceived APL, too.

          Your and bb’s points regarding how well thought-through the shared parental leave legislation might have been are particularly interesting.

          Back in March 2014, my colleague Rob Moss reported on concerns that shared parental leave could increase red tape: http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/shared-parental-leave-plans-create-red-tape/

          As I noted in the article above, the frequency with which the words “minefield” and “administrative nightmare” came up when participants in our March 2015 research were asked to share their own views on shared parental leave would seem to suggest that many in HR believe that the new right to shared parental leave has created significant amoutns of red tape for the profession.

          Indeed, nearly half of respondents to the survey agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement: “The introduction of shared parental leave has created a significant administrative workload for my organisation.” http://www.xperthr.co.uk/hr-benchmarking/question/186289/.aspx

          • chscott 13 Apr 2015 at 5:23 pm #

            We have to study and rewrite current policy(ies) and create a shedload of new forms all translated into understandable language; advise all our employees and train our managers into the process, just in case …. Where is the ROI on that?

          • Michael Carty 15 Apr 2015 at 9:05 am #

            I don’t imagine it will be of much consolation, but our survey findings would seem to suggest (as my earlier comments above hopefully convey) that you’re not alone in your concerns concerns as regards the likely ROI for the amount of time and effort expended on fomulating shared parental leave policies.

  2. bb 8 Apr 2015 at 3:21 pm #

    The government’s skill of generic actions on any employment laws or changes have always been its weakness. Some person in an office thinks this is good etc, all shaking heads in agreement then quickly type it up so we do not forget it.! And there you go another piece of employment law help falls out of the government door. And yes HR has to interpret or in court under first case action. Which gives as all an idea to go from, government scott free!.
    But this is from EU courts, and just wait when the 12 mth paid etc comes in.!!

    • Michael Carty
      Michael Carty 9 Apr 2015 at 11:15 am #

      Thank you for the comment, bb. How much extra work do you think that the new right to shared parental leave might mean for HR?

    • Michael Carty 10 Apr 2015 at 6:21 am #

      Thank you for the comment, bb. How much extra work do you think that the new right to shared parental leave might mean for HR?