Last reviewed 11 April 2019

With only 1% of new parents who are eligible to take shared parental leave (SPL) taking advantage of this possibility, the TUC has called for an overhaul of the system on the fourth anniversary of its introduction.

The TUC believes the reason that only 9200 new parents took shared parental leave last year is because the scheme is so low-paid (£145.18 per week, or 90% of the person’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower) — making it unaffordable for most fathers.

Furthermore, those dads in insecure work, such as agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts are not eligible.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Without better rights to well-paid leave, many new parents will continue to miss out on spending time with their children. And mums will continue to take on the lion’s-share of caring responsibilities”.

The current situation

Couples need to share the pay and leave in the first year after their child is born or placed with their family (in the case of adoption). They can use SPL to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work or take it all in one go.

They can also choose to be off work together or to stagger the leave (up to 50 weeks shared) and pay (up to 37 weeks shared).

The TUC proposal

Where, at present, parents can only get SPL when the mother gives up part of her maternity leave, the TUC argues that dads and second parents should have their own special leave which should be available from day one in their jobs.

This right should be extended to include those who are self-employed, agency workers or are on zero-hours contracts.

Statutory paternity pay and shared parental pay should be increased to at least minimum wage levels, the TUC proposes. It argues that increasing the current SPL period of two weeks and extending the leave to all fathers, could benefit almost 500,000 dads.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director Kate Palmer

Since 2015, shared parental leave has been an option for working couples, allowing eligible employees to share and organise family leave in a way which works best for their personal circumstances. Despite this, take-up has been very low — so why is nobody taking up shared parental leave?

It is likely due to poor awareness of it and the personal circumstances of the modern workforce. SPL rules are specific in regard to eligibility, notice requirements and patterns of leave that can be taken, meaning they can be viewed as difficult and disruptive to businesses.

Organisations may struggle to fully understand the obligations upon them, preferring employees to use the more familiar options of maternity and paternity leave. This can ultimately lead to a negative culture surrounding the use of SPL in general and deter employees from considering it.

Employees may also not choose to take SPL due to their personal circumstances.

For example, research conducted by Totaljobs outlines that 85% of employees could not afford to take advantage of SPL, likely because working mothers are generally paid less than their male partners. In addition to this, nearly half of the participants explained that their partners did not want to take the leave, with 58% confirming that the mother preferred taking the role of the main carer in their family situation.

The time spent away from work can also deter some employees due to concerns over how it will affect their career prospects going forward.

Employers should remember that employees have a legal right not to be discriminated against on the basis of maternity or paternity leave and should be fully made aware of the rights and entitlements available to them.

Working women taking prolonged career breaks to facilitate child care can lead to them missing out on key opportunities for career progression and increase a company’s gender pay gap. SPL provides the option for them to take less time away from work, encouraging higher employee retention rates, increased engagement and an improved reputation within their industry.

In the modern workplace, it is becoming increasingly apparent that employees are looking for roles with increased flexibility and strong family friendly policies. By actively encouraging take up of shared parental leave, companies can attract skilled individuals to their workforce who may otherwise have not shown interest.

In order to counteract any confusion surrounding SPL, organisations should take positive steps to introduce a workplace policy which outlines the rules on taking the leave, eligibility and how to provide notice.

This will help employees and managers understand the leave better, encouraging take up and the correct handling of requests. Additionally, requests should also be handled proactively and positively; a discussion can be held with the employee about the request and how they will be supported during their leave.