A quick reminder of SPL – the key features
SPL allows parents to share statutory leave and pay following the birth of a child and replaces the additional paternity leave provision. Like maternity and paternity pay employees do need to meet the eligibility criteria and provide notice of their intention to take SPL.
The maximum amount of leave that can be shared between the parents is 50 weeks. The leave can be taken during the first 12 months following the birth of the child following the initial 2 weeks’ compulsory maternity leave period (the compulsory period is 4 weeks for factory workers).
For eligible employees SPL will become available once the mother has given notice to end her entitlement to maternity leave. Therefore, any period of maternity leave taken by the mother will be deducted from the available 50 weeks.
SPL can be taken by each parent separately or at the same time in up to three separate blocks of leave.
Shared Parental Leave Pay (ShPP) is available for up to 37 weeks at the statutory rate, the current rate stands at £140.98 per week or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings if lower.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has outlined the aims of the policy as giving parents more choice and flexibility about how they care for their child in the first year, encouraging more fathers to play a greater caring role and increasing flexibility for employers and employees alike. This approach and rationale is positive, but what are the figure saying at this stage – the initial reports indicate a slow uptake.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) recent Labour Market and Outlook report published figures show that only 5% of men who were eligible have taken up their right – as a breakdown, the proportion of uptake is higher in the public sector at 13%, compared to 4% in the private sector.
Why has the uptake been so low?
There are varying opinions attributed to the low uptake including the relatively short time the provision has been available (time needed for the provision to be culturally embedded), the complexity of the rules and the financial gap between statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental pay in the early weeks.
The CIPD also suggests parents could be discouraged from utilising SPL for financial reasons. Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), is paid at a lower statutory rate that Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and unlike SMP there is no provision for the first six weeks to be paid at 90% of the parent’s actual pay. CIPD indicates that a key factor in working parents’ decision will be based on is if their employer offers enhanced ShPP.
Financial implications are also evident in research by XpertHR, who found that employers offering enhanced pay for SPL are twice as likely to receive requests. Although, currently most employers in the UK do not currently offer an enhanced scheme.
Other findings from a survey conducted by My Family Care one year after the introduction of the provision, reports the biggest barriers are financial affordability, lack of awareness of the options and unwillingness of partners to share leave.
Interestingly, CIPD also revealed over a quarter of the respondents think extending the SPL to grandparents would be beneficial. With 1.9 million single parent families with dependent children (Office of National Statistics, 2016) and the impact of the cost of childcare, this could be food for thought for the government and potentially a legislative consideration for the future.
Although arguably SPL encourages gender equality and greater flexibility for parents’ choices around childcare arrangements, recent case law has highlighted parity issues where employers have enhanced maternity related pay schemes.
In the case of Snell v Network Rail, an employment tribunal in Scotland awarded £28,321 to a Network Rail employee over his employer’s policy of giving a period of full pay to mothers and primary adopters on shared parental leave, but paying only statutory shared parental pay to partners and secondary adopters.
The tribunal established that the male claimant was indirectly discriminated against in relation to his sex by the operation of Network Rail’s family-friendly policy. The case has established that unequal pay within the parameters of ShPP is likely to be unacceptable.
Similarly, in the case of Ali v Capita, a father successfully argued that his employer’s failure to match enhanced rates of pay when taking SPL amounted to direct discrimination. The Tribunal ruled that not offering enhanced pay to a man who took SPL after his wife was diagnosed with postnatal depression amounted to direct discrimination.
Keeping abreast of case law is beneficial for employers to keep in mind when designing and evolving internal schemes.
Can the current trend be improved?
There are various practical approaches employers can take:
- Encourage support and buy-in by communicating the Company’s SPL policy to employees and seeking their feedback on the scheme in place.
- Ensure your SPL scheme has synergy with maternity and paternity schemes.
- Regularly review family-friendly policies and benefits – offering enhanced SPL can be a useful unique selling point for the recruitment and retention of staff as well and strengthening the employer brand.
- Efficient and smart administration processes in place to effectively manage the administrative and payroll elements associated with the scheme via an internal or external service.
For further information please contact CBW’s HR Consultants.
CBW can offer expert tailored services to support the design and implementation of all HR related policies or review your existing framework of employee policies. Please get in touch.