Equal Parental Leave: Can Companies Do More?

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The UK is one of the most progressive countries when it comes to family-friendly HR policies. The statutory amount of maternity leave in the UK is up to 52 weeks, which is more than what many other countries offer new mothers to recover from pregnancy and bond with their babies.

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Equal Parental Leave: Can Companies Do More?

Although 52 weeks may be sufficient for many women, some choose to stay at home even longer or return part-time after they've had their baby. And, that can be a problem: if an employee wants more time off than their employer offers as part of its family-friendly policy, then they might have no choice but to resign.

But, what would happen if companies promoted equal parenting instead?

What is the UK’s statutory maternity/paternity leave?

In the UK, new mothers are entitled to statutory maternity leave, which is currently 52 weeks. During this period, they can take up to 39 weeks of paid leave at 90% of their average earnings. Meanwhile, the father is entitled to one to two weeks of statutory paternity leave.

After those weeks have been exhausted, new moms can then continue on with unpaid leave up until she has completed her 52 weeks off work.

How does parental leave compare between the UK and US?

In 2019, it was reported that 75.1% of mothers in the UK were employed compared to 92.6% of fathers. In comparison, in the US, a 2020 report found that both parents were employed in 59.8% of married-couple households.

For men, although paid leave is in place for new fathers in most countries and is on the rise as a right for men globally, it is by no means as widespread as maternity leave. And, regarding comparable paid paternity leave in the US, nearly a third (28%) took only two weeks or less.

Which countries offer equal parental leave?

Some countries do offer equal parental leave. For example, Sweden offers 480 days of parental leave paid at 80% of a person's salary. It's often hailed as the gold standard for companies looking to provide equal parental leave. But what exactly does this look like?

In Sweden, both parents get 480 days to split up however they like. They can split it equally and if the child is born after 2016, each parent has 90 days reserved exclusively for spending time with their child. For 390 of these days, the parental benefit is based on your income, the remaining 90 days the benefit is paid at a minimum level.

The idea behind Sweden’s family-friendly system is that you don't have to worry about who will take care of your child when they're born because you have more than an entire year to decide who will take time off from work and coordinate with their employer.

Is the solution to offer more paternity leave?

Could the solution be as simple as offering more paternity leave? Should paternity leave be equal to maternity leave, or should it be left for the parents to decide between them? This is potentially something that needs to be explored a little more.

While it’s true that some companies are offering more than the bare minimum, it isn't currently the norm. In fact, some companies provide no extra paid time off at all.

Should new fathers make the most of their statutory paternity leave?

As well as making sure you spend enough time with your newborn, experts say it's good practice for fathers to take some of these extra days off work so they can recover physically and emotionally after all they've been through during their partner’s pregnancy and childbirth.

Why do new mums need recovery time after giving birth?

While most women are happy to be able to return to work, it can be a difficult and stressful time. A new mother's body goes through a lot during and after pregnancy, and in almost all cases, she’ll expect reasonable support from her employer.

After giving birth, women might have a range of health concerns, such as anaemia, sensitive teeth and be prone to other complications that can be unexpected and occasionally severe, including postpartum depression, blood clots and haemorrhaging.

On top of that, breastfeeding requires self-sacrifice on their part and requires them to find a balance between their careers and family life. Having time off work to rest and relax so they can recover and deal with the after-effects of childbirth is critical for a new mother’s physical and mental health.

It’s also important for both parents to have time off so they can bond with their newborn child. A recent study found that when fathers were given paternity leave, they were more likely to play an active role in raising their children. Research has also found that babies who receive quality care from their mothers during the first months of life are healthier and happier than babies who don't receive this care. One study even showed an increase in IQ among children whose mothers took longer maternity leave.

Do companies offer extra time off?

Parental leave is not set in stone, and some companies do offer extra time off. Many offer more than the statutory minimum, but parental time off does vary. And, some now offer a full year’s paternity leave, with pay.

They may also allow parents to work part-time or offer family-friendly benefits such as flexible working hours and paid parental leave. These kinds of benefits are useful for parents who want to share parental leave equally and use up some of their statutory entitlement so that both parents can take time off together without going over the limit.

What do companies need to consider when it comes to planning, introducing, and implementing their parental leave policies?

Whatever the size of your company, there are a number of factors to think about when designing an effective family-friendly policy, including:

  • The parent's personal reasons for wanting extra time off
  • The impact this might happen on hiring trends
  • The effect on a businesses' ability to function
  • The financial implications of such decisions

Companies should also consider the impact that an extended leave of absence will have on the business and hiring decisions. For example, if a company can't provide the same benefits as others in their field, they may lose out on top candidates who seek some job security or extra perks.

There's also a chance that people won't return after taking extended time off. This could lead to hiring other employees without knowing if they’ll stick around long enough for the business to make lost revenue, including the initial hiring fees and training costs.

What do employees need to consider?

Employees should consider how extended parental leave would affect their finances. The more time someone spends away from work, the less money you'll get from them each month via their salary and/or benefits plan.

Getting more dads involved in their children's lives can only be a good thing, but perhaps businesses could be offering more time off during the school holidays. When it comes to rearing kids, there are proven benefits to having two parents actively involved. Despite so many companies offering limited paid parental leave, more can be done to support and retain employees when life-changing events take place in their personal lives.

For those that do integrate equal parental leave into their policies, the rewards are valuable for employees and companies – both in terms of employee satisfaction, loyalty and the quality of life for their workers' families. The benefits are already proven in countries such as Sweden which hopefully means that more countries will recognize the need for better and more equal parental leave policies.

Chester Avey

Chester Avey has over 10 years of experience in cybersecurity and business management. Since retiring he enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience through his writing.



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