Parental leave: how much time with your children?

Parental leave for fathers

Thanks to Juliane Liebermann for making this photo available freely on Unsplash

In the UK, fathers are entitled to just 10 working days off at 80% of pay after they have a child. Almost thirty countries, including Iran, Congo and Burkina Faso, offer more favourable benefits for new dads than the UK does, according to new analysis reported in the Independent. “Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK in 2015, giving parents the right to split up to 52 weeks between them. But research cited by the law firm shows that just 1 per cent of dads have taken up the benefit.”

Parental leave in the EU

In 2019, European Parliament ruled to allow parents and carers to better reconcile their work and family lives. The newest legislation states: 

“Employees (male and female) are entitled to parental leave on the birth or adoption of a child – regardless of their type of contract (part-time, full-time, etc.).

You cannot dismiss staff because they requested parental leave, or treat them less favourably than other staff. Both parents are entitled to at least 4 months leave each. As a general rule, employees cannot transfer their leave entitlement to the other parent. However, some countries may allow them to transfer part of their entitlement, but no more than 3 months.

Under EU rules, staff can take parental leave at any time until the child is 8 years old. However, this age limit may be lower in some countries, under national law.

After taking parental leave, an employee has the right to return to the same job. If that’s not possible, you must offer them a similar job in line with their employment contract.

If returning employees request temporary changes to their working hours/patterns, you are must give this request due consideration and make a sound business case for any refusal.

The new rules aim to increase women’s employment rates, (currently at 66.5% compared to 78% for men) and create incentives for fathers to take parental leave. This aims to promote better gender equality and equal opportunities.

In addition to the right to have at least four months of parental leave, parents would be able to request flexible working arrangements. That way fathers and mothers can equally balance work and personal life.

In a Stockholm study students examine gender differences in parental leave opportunities and it’s impact:

Parental leave in the UK 

In a study by the OECD, the UK was found to be far behind other countries on parental leave pay.

Back in 2019, the Government promised to bring forward the Government’s Employment Bill to do a number of things: It was meant to transform working life for millions of people with caring responsibilities. The measures promised to make flexible working the default for new jobs. Also to provide workers in insecure jobs with rights to have more predictable schedules. They offered to strengthen redundancy rights for new mothers and offer neo-natal care leave. 

Last year brought the pandemic as an additional difficulty to the already hard work/life balance struggle of working parents. Child care duties, especially with younger children and school closings increased inequalities for people who couldn’t work flexibly. 

UK charity ‘Working Families’

In September 2020, work-life balance charity Working Families called on the Government to add caring responsibilities and parental leave to the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act. They write:

“Today, we have released figures that show that 1 in 5 – or 2.6 million working parents in the UK feel they have been treated less fairly at work because of their childcare responsibilities since the onset of COVID-19.

The stats come from a YouGov poll, which asked working parents whether they agree with the following statement: “I have felt treated less fairly at work because of my childcare responsibilities” since the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK began. 20% of working parents answered “strongly agree” or “tend to agree”. Mothers were more likely to agree with the statement than fathers (22% vs 17%). Part-time workers were much more likely to agree with the statement than full-time workers (29% vs 15%).

This polling—launched during National Work Life Week – underpins the charity’s call for adding caring responsibilities to the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act, providing a legal foundation on which to tackle workplace discrimination against parents and carers.”

Build back better for families with babies 

Working Families wrote in May 2021: “Pre-existing inequalities around who has access to flexible and secure work have worsened, hitting women and those on low incomes particularly hard. At the peak of the pandemic demand for our advice service rose sixfold, with many enquiries about poor employment practices and new parents at risk of redundancy.”

“But we have also learnt that many more jobs than previously thought possible can be worked on a flexible basis, and seen some excellent examples of employers using their own initiative to support family friendly working – with positive impacts on productivity.

We are waiting to see how the Government intends to take forward its manifesto promises. The Queen’s Speech did not mention the promised Bill. We fear that the Government missed a golden opportunity  to build back better for the UK’s 13 million working parents.