Government SPL estimate ‘too low’

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Government has drastically underestimated interest in shared parental leave, according to research by law firm Linklaters.

It surveyed employees who are recent parents or ‘parents to be’ within the FTSE 100 and 63% said they were either interested or very interested in taking up the new right, which comes into force on 1 December 2014 and applies to babies born or adopted from 5 April. This compares to government estimates of likely take-up between two and six per cent.

The survey, which was conducted in September this year, found that men and women have similar levels of interest – 62% and 63% respectively.

However, the research confirmed that uptake will be significantly influenced by whether employers offer additional pay over and above the statutory minimum. Of those interested in taking SPL, 76% said that entitlement to additional pay would be relevant or very relevant to their decision. Just over 70% of those interested said that no or insufficient pay would mean they may not be able to take up the leave.

Simon Kerr-Davis, senior employment lawyer at Linklaters, told Flexible Boss employers could face industrial relations issues if they enhance maternity pay but not SPL. There is no legal obligation to treat the two in the same way but failing to do so discourages women from sharing leave during the period maternity pay is enhanced.

The research comes as three employers – Deloitte, PwC and Shell – have followed the civil service in announcing they will enhance SPL pay. The three employ 100,000 people between them

However, pay is not the only relevant factor. In the Linklaters survey, 62% of both men and women said that concerns about how taking SPL is perceived by management and potential damage to their career prospects would influence them. Crucially, 50% of men said that they would be reluctant to take SPL if other men in their organisation opted not to.

Both men and women surveyed showed a significant preference for taking one stretch of leave rather than breaking it up into multiple shorter periods. Men overwhelmingly expressed a preference to take SPL at the same time as the mother rather than instead of her.

Kerr-Davis said there are three clear take-aways from the research. “First, there is an obvious appetite among parents for shared parental leave – it’s far larger than the government had originally anticipated. Second, enhanced pay is likely to be a key determining factor on eventual uptake, and third, employers have a key role to play overall in the value of SPL to employees.”

“All of these points go the heart of what employers are asking us – whether or not to offer pay enhancements and the issues relevant to this.  Even now, we know that many employers are still unsure how to make this decision.”

He added: “For many employers, SPL will be a key part of their flexibility offering, helping to promote a diverse workforce and furthering the agenda of encouraging women into senior positions. Offering additional pay during SPL is a question of employer-of-choice branding, and is a way to endorse take-up by employees. But for maximum impact it should not be considered in isolation.”

He said to assess the potential risks and costs, employers need to be able to make assumptions about the numbers of employees who will take up SPL, the value to employees of being able to do so and the likely patterns of leave they will request.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pensiero/

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