The parental leave policy gap

In times of increased awareness around employee rights, a company’s parental leave policy is an important representation of its commitment to equality. Furthermore, certain employers may, in the future, be subject to legislation requiring them to publish information on their position around parental leave and pay. Scrutiny and interest over how employers treat parents taking parental leave is therefore gathering pace, and employers should seek to review their position to ensure that they can continue to attract and retain the best talent.

What is the current landscape in the UK?

From a legislative perspective, parental leave can cover several categories for employers, including Maternity leave, Paternity leave, Adoption leave, and Surrogacy. Each scenario places certain minimum requirements on employers in ensuring they follow proper practice for employees in these scenarios. However, for employees, the reality is that policies are often not equal for men and women taking leave.

In 2015, new rights were introduced allowing parents to share leave from their place of work following the birth or adoption of a child. However, the legislative landscape is currently unclear, and much of the onus is on employers to decide how they implement their own policies in practice.  As a result, some companies may give their female employees taking maternity leave enhanced pay but may not do the same for their male employees who want to take shared parental leave.

Despite current legislation surrounding parental leave raising more questions than answers, there has been progress in requiring employers to share clarity around their policies. Last year, a bill was put to Parliament proposing legislation that would call on employers with 250 or more staff to make information available on their parental leave policies publicly available. Britain already requires companies to publish their gender pay gaps and this has had a powerful effect in increasing transparency around inequality of pay in the workplace. Asking the same for parental leave policy would create a wider view of gender inequality issues in businesses, increasing the call for change where needed.

What can employers do?

Until statutory law requires employers to share their policy information, the reality is that companies have discretion to decide whether they publish the details of their parental leave and pay structure. As employees are becoming more discerning over an employer’s policies on this matter, employers can respond by volunteering such information on their website and in their recruitment materials.

For prospective employees, parental leave and pay policies are critical to many applicants and may make the difference between them declining and accepting an offer. Despite this, many employers still fall behind in their attitudes to recruitment in this regard. A report from the Equality and Human rights commission in 2018 revealed that 56% of employers agreed a woman should have to disclose if she is pregnant during the recruitment process.

Many large employers are already recognising the importance of making their policies around parental leave more transparent, with businesses like Mumsnet and Aviva leading the charge in equalising their parental leave policies for mothers and fathers.

With employee working patterns set to become more flexible, the pressure for employers to ensure their parental leave policies match this changing dynamic is increasing. There is still work to be done in ensuring both mothers and fathers have access to the same rights in parental leave and pay, but steps in the right direction by large companies have been made, encouraging others to follow suit. This, combined with the prospect of legislation requiring employers to publish information on the horizon, means the parental leave gap should narrow.

David Greenhalgh

David Greenhalgh

Partner – Employment

+44 (0) 20 7580 5721

This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.