The Government have launched the 'Share the Joy' campaign to raise awareness of the benefits for parents in the first year of Shared Parental Leave.
Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015 to offer choice to eligible parents in respect to childcare, and allow mothers to return to work sooner if they wish to.
Around 285,000 couples every year are eligible. The government estimate that between two and eight percent f eligible parents would take shared parental leave. Around half of the public are unaware that the option exists for parents.
In other countries where alternative shared-leave entitlements have been introduced, uptake has soared: for example, to 91 percent in Iceland and 63 percent in Portugal.
Some believe that the low uptake of the scheme in the UK is due to ingrained cultural beliefs that women are the caregivers. Also, that there is insufficient incentives for men to stay at home.
Some quarters are calling for a period of extended paid paternity leave to encourage fathers to share leave.
Business Minister Andrew Griffiths, who is championing the campaign, explained that he would not be taking up the scheme as MPs do not qualify for standard parental leave as they are considered to be “office holders” rather than employees and as such he was ineligible for shared leave.
Each family has to make the decision that suits them. To ensure families are aware of their rights, employers should inform employees of their workplace right for eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay after having a baby. They can take time off separately or they can be at home together for up to six months.
The benefits are that employees are provided with flexible employment options which in turn creates a happier and more productive workforce. Employers are able to retain talent in the work force.
Shared Parental Leave, however, may be particularly challenging for small businesses which do not have the resources to adequately assist the individual making a Shared Parental Leave application.
Dealing with an application for SPL, often involves two employees in two different companies which can be complicated and time consuming.
Employers should ensure that they have clear guidelines and established procedures to follow when they receive an application.
Helen Murphie is a partner in the employment and HR team at Royds Withy King.