Large firms have had no more than a handful of requests from staff to take parental leave, according to the director of Worcestershire Council’s corporate services Helen Froud.
She told delegates that anecdotal evidence suggested that because it was unpaid, the uptake had been low since the regulations came into force in December.
“Parental leave is still not a mainstream issue for fathers or for low paid workers and will not be until, as the Industrial Society has said, the term working fathers comes into common parlance,” she said.
But Froud warned that employers should plan ahead as, if a TUC challenge to the implementation date of December 1999 succeeds in the European courts, the regulations will allow an extra 7 million more employees to take parental leave in two years’ time.
Cherie Booth QC, who chaired last year’s Employers’ Law briefing, is acting on behalf of the TUC and helped Froud prepare her speech to delegates.
Froud said that Worcestershire, like the DTI and Remploy, is an employer which has exceeded the minimum standards and offered parental leave to all staff who have children aged under five, not just those that had a baby after December 1999. The regulations allow both parents to take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid leave up to their child’s fifth birthday.
“Being a parent is a lifestyle choice, but it has an impact on society. Parental leave can give time to meet obligations of children and the obligations of employers while keeping them in the paid workplace. The Government has made it clear that parental leave is part of its social inclusion strategy,” said Froud.
She urged HR managers to rehearse the questions within their team first. “You can give parental leave without asking questions or you will have to ask for documentary evidence and risk intruding into the private life of your staff.”
Parental Leave: action list
- Check managers are aware of it
- Check recording systems
- Plan for European court judgement due in 2002
- Amend recruitment literature to reflect corporate work/life stance
- Rehearse questions with HR first.