Shared Parental Leave in the UK was considered a large step forward in terms of equal gender treatment in the workplace. However, the take up has only been a marginal proportion of that originally forecast.
Whilst Shared Parental Leave was first introduced in April 2015, the Government are making provisions to increase awareness and understanding of the scheme as a result of its limited use through the launch of the "Share the Joy" campaign. Plans have been put in place to spend £1.5 million on a campaign with the aim of ensuring parents are aware of their rights relating to parental leave.
The Minister for Women, Victoria Atkin, was quoted in the Government press release saying "Providing parents with choice and flexibility in how they balance childcare responsibilities is a key step towards achieving equality in the workplace and beyond."
Shared Parental leave entitles couples to share out the time and responsibility of caring for a child during their first year. The provisions allow a couple to share up to 50 weeks of leave with 37 of those being paid. The couple decide whether they chose to take time off separately or whether they were to take leave for a period of up to six months together.
Both the mother and father are required by the eligibility criteria to have been employed for at least 26 weeks prior to the 15th week before the expected due date and it is important employers are given adequate notice of the planned leave.
The current rate of pay for shared parental leave is the same as maternity leave being £140.98 per week or 90% of the individual's average earnings, whichever is lower. It is thought the lower rate of pay for most families provides a barrier to shared parental leave as both parents cannot afford to take leave on a much lower income. Whilst some companies choose to pay individuals their normal rate of pay during this period, many do not.
The leave itself can be very flexible as a parent does not need to take all of their leave in one go. In fact, a parent can take up to three blocks of leave in the course of a child's first year. Therefore for a mother who wishes to take a more flexible approach to their leave, shared parental leave will be a more suitable route.
If this provision was so helpful for families, why has it not been made use of? Arguably, pay is one of the most restricting factors and many would not be able to commit to a lower rate of pay.
We are currently awaiting the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Madasar Ali. Mr Ali brought an action against his employers concerning his rights relating to pay whilst on shared parental leave. Mr Ali's wife had post-natal depression and as a result, Mr Ali cared for their new born daughter. Mr Ali believed he had been the victim of direct sex discrimination due to the fact he, as a male employee, was only entitled to two weeks paid leave following the birth of his child in April 2016. A female employee of the same firm would be entitled to 14 week's pay following the birth of her child. If Mr Ali wished to take leave in place of his wife, Capita were only prepared to pay him statutory pay for the period following his initial two weeks of paid leave. The Employment Tribunal found Mr Ali had been subjected to direct sex discrimination. A decision in this ongoing case may well change the dynamics of the shared parental leave rule for families once again.
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