Last reviewed 4 March 2020

Progressive leave policies are becoming increasingly popular, but how feasible are they for employers? Ben McCarthy, lead employment law writer and researcher at Croner-i, outlines the implications of such leave provisions and what employers need to bear in mind.

Enhanced leave options, such as providing additional maternity leave or enhanced rates of pay while taking this leave, is something that many staff will respond to positively. After all, the idea that a company is willing to go one step further than the law in assisting its employees with outside commitments, such as family, can be a key element in both attracting, and encouraging the loyalty of, members of staff.

With workplace inequality remaining a key issue, and modern workers increasingly looking for roles that offer greater support and degrees of flexibility, enhanced or so-called “progressive” leave options could seem like a no-brainer.

However, there is a big issue that can arise in these situations, and that issue is cost. While enhancing leave may look good on paper, an organisation still has its financial needs and still requires its staff to do what they were employed to do. Larger organisations are usually in a better position to offer this leave, but even they may struggle if staff are permitted lengthy periods away from work for a number of varied issues.

Examples of progressive leave

When employers consider enhanced leave options, it is likely that family leave is one of the first to spring to mind. For example, the insurance company Aviva introduced a policy in 2017 which allowed all employees, regardless of their gender, to receive 26 weeks’ of leave on full pay following the birth of a child — a move that went significantly beyond the legal minimum requirements for family leave. There are also some organisations which have implemented other progressive policies — Deloitte’s Time Out scheme enables employees to take a four-week period of unpaid leave every year, while Brewdog’s Pawternity Leave permits staff a week off work to look after a puppy or rescue dog.

While some of these policies are not likely to be something many employers are considering, they do show a growing trend of how companies are adapting to the changing needs of the modern workforce. Studies have shown that an increasing number of employees want to move away from traditional nine to five brackets, and are more attracted to roles which offer enhanced leave and flexibility. By implementing such leave options, employers can often see such policies as a way of standing out from competitors.

Progressive leave and workplace equality

Companies should also consider how enhanced leave can be key in tackling workplace inequality. With gender pay gap reports for 2020 expected in the next few weeks, eyes will once again be on companies which show a pay disparity between male and female employees. In addition to this, there remain increasing calls for such reporting requirements to be extended to ethnic minority employees. Offering enhanced leave options can be an efficient way of tackling this issue publicly, demonstrating that the company is both taking active steps to promote workplace equality and providing increased opportunity for individuals to avoid missing out on opportunities for progression. For example, working mothers may have to take increased amounts of time away from their job to facilitate childcare and meet costs. However, if their partners are offered a longer period of paid leave to share the responsibility, or if they themselves are offered increased pay during their maternity leave, it can assist with returning to work earlier than they may have anticipated.

Implementing enhanced leave options

Enhanced leave provisions are not going to be an option for every company. Indeed, taking this action can be expensive for a business, particularly those with smaller numbers of staff. At the end of the day, employees are paid to fulfil a role and, in their absence, their duties will likely need to be covered by someone else. Facilitating cover can be time-consuming for a company and, for that reason, allowing additional leave options may be something that some may wish to avoid.

It should also be remembered that if such leave is provided for within a contract of employment, employers are risking a breach of contract claim if they seek not to offer it due to associated costs. Additionally, if they try and offer the leave to some employees over others, this could even result in claims of unfair treatment and, if this treatment can be linked to a protected characteristic, discrimination.

If a company does want to go down this route but is concerned over the cost, it is advisable that it fully assesses the feasibility of introducing such a policy before making any move to do so. After all, it may be better to avoid introducing such a policy at all than struggling to maintain it at a later date. Can the company afford to provide this leave consistently and, if not, is there an alternative option available that could achieve a similar outcome but at less risk to the company itself? Remember, while implementing such policies is likely to be popular with staff, it is also likely to be very poorly received to try and remove them later.

Conclusion

It is very likely that this trend of offering enhanced leave is only going to continue in the coming years. Furthermore, with the introduction of parental bereavement leave in April this year, and specific provisions for neonatal and carer leave expected, it seems likely that employers will see increased changes to the law going forward. Implementing policies to get ahead of this could therefore prove to be beneficial in the long run.

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