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Parental Leave, what’s changing? asks Employment Law Solicitor

The Children and Families Bill 2013 proposes two changes to the law which open up new possibilities for people to work and share family obligations. While this is welcome news, there are still problems to overcome in the road ahead, explains Employment Solicitor Gemma Murray.

The changes

“Maternity” leave is becoming “parental” leave

Since April 2011, working parents have been entitled to swap blocks of maternity leave between themselves. As long as the mother has returned to work and the father has been with his employer long enough, he is entitled to use up the rest of her leave and any statutory maternity pay. However, this bill not only offers parents the chance to switch roles several times during the year but also for the first time to take time off together.

Flexible working for all

Currently, only those who have responsibility for a child under the age of 16 have had a statutory right to request flexible working. As from April 2014, anyone who would like, for any reason, to move away from the traditional 7 hours a day; 5 days a week can ask to do so.

The problems

Many women who agree Flexible Working with their employer then find that they have been placed on the “mummy track” – showing up to work, but never securing promotion or interesting roles. Please read our research on 'Mums Facing Discrimination In The Workplace'. Even those who do not request changes to their working hours may find that following time out of the workplace, their commitment to their job is questioned and they have been demoted or replaced.  

It would seem that men are well aware of the problems faced by new mothers on return to work. Historically, take up of the right to share maternity leave has been very low. The right to request flexible working currently applies to fathers every bit as much as mothers, but it is still predominantly women who change their working patterns at the end of maternity leave.

Men also face two additional stumbling blocks

Social stigma

The old fashioned view that the man should be the main breadwinner means that men can be judged even more harshly than women for taking time out.

No contractual pay

Ironically, at the same time as facing criticism for failing to bring in the money, men are less likely than women to be entitled to anything more than statutory pay. This is only £136.78 per week whereas maternity packages in contracts may offer months of full pay followed by a further period of half pay.

The future

These new laws can only really change the dynamics of modern workplaces if everyone can take advantage of them. To increase take up, a shift is needed in workplace culture as well as in the law.  Business has a part to play here too – by ensuring that contracts contain paid family leave and that face time is not the main way to get ahead.

More and more families are looking at how they share parenting responsibilities and the law increasingly supports them in this. It may take another generation to become the norm, but the move away from the “9 to 5” working day has begun.

If you are considering making a change to the way you work, then we can help you to apply for Flexible Working.