Flexible parental leave
A new Government system was introduced back in 2015, that was focused on flexible parental leave. Providing equal opportunities for both mothers and fathers alike, and extending beyond the first 18 weeks of a child’s life, the idea was to create a culture where both parents can balance home and work, as opposed to solely the father going out and earning during this stage. To improve this situation for working mothers, it is important that businesses provide a facility where they can return to work early, leaving the responsibility of the childcare in the hands of the father.

The scheme proposed the following values:
1. Protection – for both pregnant women and mothers both immediately before and after childbirth.
2. Flexibility – for both employers and employees, to give different options when it comes to childcare.
3. Simplicity – keeping any systems in place straightforward and easy for both employers and parents.
4. Responsibility – creating a fair system for both mothers and fathers, to allow discussions between employers and parents regarding parental leave.

This regulation gave fathers the option to take a continuous time of paternity leave around the date their baby is born, with the view to protect this period over the years. Additional paternity leave was also introduced, giving both parents access to a paid, extended period of leave during the first year. So, with things already moving in the right direction for fathers, why are there talks about extending paternity leave to 12 weeks? Is it just so Theresa May can leave on a high?

The effect on businesses
Other than the major financial blow that is likely to negatively impact a business of any size, there are a few other things to bear in mind if this regulation is seen through. At the moment, only larger companies, such as the likes of 02, are able to increase their paternity leave to 14 weeks. They can afford to do so as they are a multi-million pound business. This is going to be quite an incentive for anyone looking to start a family, and will set these big businesses apart from their competitors when it comes to hiring new employees.

However, smaller companies simply won’t be able to afford to pay members of their team for 12 weeks whilst no work is being carried out. This will create an even larger divide between SMEs and larger businesses. It won’t simply be a case of handing over the workload to another colleague; small businesses may have to look into short-term contract hire to fill the gap – another expense to take into consideration. With huge financial pressures already for smaller firms, such as paying the national living wage, or the rising costs of business rates, this could be really bad news for those already struggling.

Will this potential change also affect the gender pay gap debate? If men are able to take an extended paternity leave, this could mean they start to fall behind their colleagues, both male and female, giving those people the chance to advance their careers. Alternatively, it may be an idea for smaller businesses to provide more flexible working opportunities for both parents, which may reduce the requirement for extended paternity leave.

The changing nature of careers
Shaw Trust recently tweeted how it is an ‘Employees market at the moment, with increased flexibility, 4 day work weeks and greater maternity and paternity packages on the horizon’. Which couldn’t be more true. Where does this leave businesses? Employees tend to focus a lot more on the culture of businesses when applying for new roles, which indicates how important it is to be flexible and provide extra benefits above and beyond those of your competitors.

It isn’t all negative though. By providing these extras, you’re more likely to attract a skilled, dedicated workforce that will stay with your business for longer periods of time. Most men don’t currently take the full 1–-2 weeks paternity pay that they are offered now, so you may find very few employees will use the full 12 weeks even if it is legislated. However, by simply offering it as an incentive, you could attract higher calibre employees to your business, promoting a happier, loyal and more productive workforce.

With so many things to take into consideration, and the policy itself not yet finalised, we will continue to keep you updated on this issue. We’re here to protect and work with our clients, providing recruitment advice and candidates who are looking for short-term contracts too. If you’re concerned about how this proposed 12-week paternity pay will affect your business, please contact us today for some expert help.