In July 2019, outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May launched a consultation ‘to better support parents to balance work and family-life’.  This is all part of the UK Government’s plans to implement recommendations from Matthew Taylor’s 2017 Review of Modern Working Practices, as per commitments in its 2018 Good Work Plan.

Entitled ‘Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families’, this single consultation actually contains three proposals that could see the advent of Statutory Leave / Payment changes and additions.  It is a consultation that seeks views on the UK Government’s ‘overall approach to parental leave and pay’.    These will affect both HR and payroll professionals and, not forgetting, software developers who will have to make this happen for us.

UK Wide?

The consultation makes a number of references to statutory employment rights, the Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).  Employment rights are a devolved issue to Northern Ireland and none of these bodies have any authority in Northern Ireland where there are separate departments.

Therefore, whilst Taylor’s 2017 Review was UK-wide, the legislation that may arise from this consultation will apply in Great Britain only.

Parental Leave and Pay

This is in Chapter 1 and the consultation on this part closes on 29 November 2019.

Chapter 1 looks at looks at ‘high level options for reforming parental leave and pay’.  This is quite a long part but the crux of it is:

  • The UK Government is reviewing Shared Parental Leave and Pay, introduced in 2015. There have only been modest people using this statutory entitlement and the Government hopes to report at the end of the year, ‘subject to data collection progressing as planned’
  • There is a clear intention that ‘fathers’ are to be encouraged to take parental leave, as evidence suggests that this has positive effects for mother, child and employment generally. However whilst maternity leave is better than average in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, paternity entitlements are not

There is no simple solution to reform, as any change will result in winners and losers.  Yet the policies that could be reviewed and reformed are:

  • Extending and enhancing the duration and rate of payment of Statutory Paternity Leave and Pay for eligible fathers and partners. Further, making it more flexible, for example, allowing an enhanced entitlement to be taken with the first year of a child’s life / adoption
  • Extending and enhancing Shared Parental Leave and Pay for eligible couples, possibly giving ‘fathers’ and entitlement of their own rather than having to rely on the ‘mother’ to agree curtailment of maternity leave
  • Extending and enhancing the duration of Statutory Maternity Leave and Pay / Allowance for pregnant women and new mothers, making it more flexible and
  • Extending the unpaid Parental Leave entitlement (the 18 weeks) to parents of older children

The consultation asks whether the Government should consider something more ‘radical’, effectively starting all over again with parental leave and pay.

There are 26 questions in this Chapter alone, all of which have to be balanced with the costs to businesses and the Government.

It will be fascinating to see the range of views that are expressed, if the current UK Government considers this a policy that it wishes to take forward.  The current systems of parental leave and pay are outdated and are ripe for reform.  However, do we need a radical one and can businesses cope with this?

Responses to Chapter 1 will be considered together with the evidence collected through the evaluation of Shared Parental Leave and Pay.

Neonatal Leave and Pay

This is in Chapter 2 and the consultation on this part closes on 11 October 2019.

Simply, this is recognising that there are a large number of babies that are admitted to neonatal care every year following their birth.  This is not only for premature babies but also those that have to enter neonatal care after birth for whatever reason.

This can be traumatic and stressful on parents and the current Maternity and Paternity Leave arrangements do not take this into account, as it could be that the 52 weeks / 2 weeks is spent in hospital with the child rather than at home.

Essentially, the consultation proposes a new entitlement to Statutory Neonatal Leave and Pay.  This would be a conditional entitlement, restricted to the individuals who would have had the main responsibility for caring for the child had it not been admitted to neonatal care, e.g. the mother and the father.  It would be in addition to Statutory Maternity (or Paternity) Leave and would apply where the baby has spent a minimum of two continuous weeks in neonatal care.  Up to a maximum number of weeks, one week’s Statutory Neonatal Leave and Pay would be allowed for each complete week the baby is in this type of care.

There are 18 questions in this Chapter on the proposed new statutory entitlement.

The then-Prime Minister Theresa May said it’s ‘not fair or right’ that parents in this situation are forced to use their Maternity or Paternity entitlements.  This is absolutely correct.  Yet, again, all of this has to be balanced with the costs to Government and businesses.  This is not easy, though, this is a proposal, which implies that Government thinking at the time was that this would manifest itself into law sometime.

Flexible Working and Family-Related Leave and Pay Policies

This is in Chapter 3 and the consultation on this part closes on 11 October 2019.

This is all about the UK Government’s intention to ‘improve access to flexible working for all’.  Essentially, flexibility and family-related policies should be transparent to job applicants and existing employees and the Chapter seeks views about:

  • Employers with over 250 employees publishing family-related leave and pay policies on their Website and / or publishing the policies on the Government’s Gender Pay Gap Reporting Portal, and
  • Whether it should be a requirement for all employers to consider advertising jobs as flexible

There are 14 questions in this section.

Admirable and fulfilling a UK Government commitment in 2018 where they said they would ‘consider’ these things.  Should this be mandatory or voluntary asks the consultation (always remembering that anything voluntary has a low take-up)!

Comment

I am glad that the previous UK Government has considered these things and put them forward in a (long) consultation document.  It is absolutely right that, just as employers consider whether their policies and procedures keep up with the times, the UK Government should do the same.

Of course, following Mrs May’s departure as Prime Minister, it will be up to her successor to decide whether or not to proceed with any consultation outcomes or, indeed, whether these are a propriety for the new administration.

I also have concerns that this this could bring about more divergences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, something that employers and software developers will need to become familiar with and accommodate.

 

 

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