Family Friendly Future – Shared Parental Leave

Excitement is mounting over the imminent birth of Harry and Meghan’s first child… boy or girl, will s/he inherit Harry’s red hair, how much maternity leave will Meghan take and will Harry take time off to bond with his new son or daughter?  Will they break with Royal Family tradition and take advantage of the 50 out of 52 weeks’ shared parental leave?

UK law has changed dramatically over the last five years or so, with all future policy and legislation being subjected to a family friendly filter before it can be enacted.  The Children and Families Act 2014 saw the introduction of the right to request flexible working for all employees with 26 weeks or more continuous service, swiftly followed in 2015 by the shared parental leave and pay system plus pay and leave entitlements for adopters.

So what does the future hold for working families?  Here’s a summary of what we might see:

  • Extended discrimination protection during pregnancy and maternity; proposals include extending the “protected period” to six months after the new mother (or a parent returning from adoption or shared parental leave) returns to work – consultations take place this April.
  • Parental bereavement provision; the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act will entitle employees who lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from the 24th week of pregnancy, to two weeks’ unpaid leave, as a right from day one of their employment. The leave will be paid at the statutory rate for employees who have 26 weeks’ or more service.  The government is aiming for this new law to be in force in 2020.
  • Grandparental leave; a proposal to extend shared parental leave to working grandparents is currently on hold as far as employment law is concerned, but Asda has just announced its new policy to grant new grandparents a week’s holiday, and other companies are expected to follow suit.
  • The government is exploring the possibility of a new law requiring employers with more than 250 employees to publish details of their family-friendly policies – this would cover maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave, shared parental leave, “ordinary” (unpaid) parental leave and possibly even flexible working. Jo Swinson, the first MP to take her baby into a Commons debate, has already secured the co-operation of 10 big-name firms in the finance, banking and legal sectors to publish their family leave and pay offerings online.

Large employers will be eagerly awaiting the Government’s consultation on the details of the proposed new law but in the meantime, employers may wish to explore the benefits of making their family-friendly policies available online, particularly in terms of retaining staff, improving candidate attraction and getting ahead of their rivals in the labour market.  Employees who work flexibly are more productive, less likely to take sick leave and more likely to stay with their employers.

Here we look at some companies who are leading their field by upping their family friendliness:

  • Ministry of Justice: launched their “Smarter Working programme” which saw it open 52 commuter hubs across the country, rolling out tools and technology to help staff work effectively from outside their home office
  • Lloyds Banking Group: receives around 100 requests for agile working a month and has agreed more than 90% of them. Its agility programme encompasses culture, job design, hiring, property and technology and is designed to embed a flexible approach across the organisation, with around one-third of employees now working in an agile way.  The bank has improved access to the tools and technology needed to enable effective remote working.
  • IKEA: pays benefits for up to four months for new parents.
  • Netflix: an unlimited paid leave policy for new parents, inviting them to take off “as much time as they want” in the year following the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Amazon: “Leave Share” policy allows employees to share their paid leave with their partners if their partners’ companies don’t offer their own paid leave programme. Amazon also helps ease new parents back into the workplace by allowing them to work at a reduced schedule for eight weeks after their return to work.

Of course, it’s easier for larger companies to implement good family-friendly policies – they have many resources at their disposal.  So how can small companies compete?  To find out, look out for our follow up article.

To read more about the UK’s most family-friendly workplaces, go to https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/news/the-uks-most-family-friendly-workplaces-unveiled/ Here you can also take part in the 2019 benchmarking exercise, which helps employers see whether they are ahead or behind the curve in the development of flexible and family friendly working.

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