News and Events

Why Nick Clegg's shared parental leave won't work

  • Posted

Ministers are expected to announce a consultation today on a new system of parental leave, to allow mothers and fathers more flexibility to share time off after a baby’s birth. The proposals include allowing parents to split their leave in whatever way suits them best, including taking time off in chunks rather than in one go.

Current law gives women up to one year’s maternity leave, of which nine months is paid and three months is unpaid. Fathers are entitled to up to two weeks’ paternity leave (at £125 per week) within eight weeks of the birth. 

From April 2011, the position changes. The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010, introduced by the last government, provide that when a baby is born after 6 April 2011, the mother will be able to transfer the second half of her year-long maternity entitlement to the father. Some companies, eg Santander, already have such policies in place.

The new proposals - floated to take effect from 2015 - are noble, but deeply impractical.

Employers often hire maternity cover for a year. Temporary replacements do not hit the ground running; they need training up and mentoring. If a woman on maternity leave can take her leave in chunks, it will make maternity cover impossible for employers to organise. Employers will be unable to find someone to work for an unascertained period. Instead they will have to rely on agency temps for short chunks of time at inflated agency rates. And if the parent returns after a month, all the training invested in the temporary cover will be wasted as they are unlikely to still be available when the parent takes another chunk of time off a month or so later.

Further, a mother and father usually won’t work for the same organisation. It will be difficult for employers to check the truthfulness of a father’s claim that his wife has let him take half of the parental leave, and it might end with parents being able to inveigle extra time off because of the impossibility of policing the system.

Also, I fear it will have a chilling impact on recruitment practice. Many employers shy away from hiring women of childbearing age. Nick Clegg’s proposals might see employers avoiding recruitment of any person in their 20s or 30s, which would lead to an increase in the number of age discrimination claims and the burden of tribunal claims on employers.