Ed Miliband this week suggested that a future labour government would double the amount of paid paternity leave from two to four weeks. Paternity pay would also be increased to £260 a week, which is over £100 more than at present. The proposal attracted a great deal of attention and criticism, with some viewing it as a “tax on business”.

Mr Miliband’s proposal is perhaps surprising in light of the more extensive (and arguably progressive) changes being brought into effect by the Shared Parental Leave (“SPL”) legislation. This enormously complicated regime is still being digested and implemented by businesses. It remains unclear how high levels of uptake of SPL will be, and whether it will achieve its aim of encouraging greater levels of co-parenting. Figures suggest that the level of take up of Additional Paternity Leave (“APL”) was less than 1% of eligible employees (APL is being replaced by the SPL regime).

Parental rights is an area which has seen significant changes in recent years, and which will undoubtedly be further developed by any new government. Whilst the move towards more ‘modern’ workplaces is undoubtedly good news for individual employees, the change of pace in this area has been dizzying, with businesses having to absorb half a dozen significant changes to parental leave in the last decade. This pace of change has the potential to raise costs for businesses, and can generate uncertainty when it comes to taking on new staff.

It is interesting to consider how other jurisdictions deal with parental rights. In India and China, fathers are not entitled to any leave, paid or unpaid. In the USA, mothers and fathers are entitled to a maximum of 12 weeks’ unpaid parental leave. In Europe the news is typically better: mothers generally get between 14 and 22 weeks of paid leave, and fathers get anywhere between two days and three months of paid leave.

Sweden’s offering is far more generous: parents receive 480 days of leave per child up to the age of 8 years, or until the child completes their first year of school. 390 of those days will be paid at around 80% of the individual’s salary. This may explain in part why 90% of Swedish fathers take paternity leave, while only 55% of fathers in the UK take ordinary paternity leave.

The above statistics neatly highlight the point that take up of parental rights depends on a combination of factors, including the provision of financial support for those taking leave and how ‘normal’ it is for individuals to exercise their rights. On that basis, SPL may be too radical for many couples, and fathers may be concerned by a potential loss of status, as well as pay, resulting from an extended period of parental leave. In the UK, therefore, it remains to be seen how significant the impact of SPL will be, in terms of both the level of take up by couples and the cost to businesses.

Posted on 13/02/2015 in Legal Updates

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