Work Matters: Management Focus - Parental leave - Call for flexibility

Karen Faux
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Federation of Small Businesses wants parents to be given more say in planning maternity/paternity leave, says Karen Faux.

The Federation of Small Businesses is calling on the Government to reform maternity and paternity leave in the light of its latest report Flexible working: Small business solutions. FSB research highlights that maternity and paternity leave is one of the most complicated issues in the employment field and half of all members rated it as very complex to administer.

Under current rules, women can take 52 weeks' leave, with 39 of these on statutory maternity pay, and men two weeks' paid paternity leave. But although many women benefit from the full length of leave in the UK, 37 per cent of lower-paid workers tend to go back within six months, compared to 11 per cent of those on higher pay (£29,000 to 39,000).

The FSB believes that leave needs to be more easily understood by both parents and employers and tailored to the individual needs of parents. It suggests that statutory parental pay could be spaced out over the period that a parent wants to be off work. This could mean, for example, a parent taking leave for a four-month period only and then returning to work. In this case, they would be entitled to all the statutory pay during this period, with the expectation that they either return to work after four months or take any extra time as unpaid leave.

John Walker, national chairman of the FSB, says, 'Parents should be able to choose not only how long they take leave but how and when they receive the pay they are entitled to. In doing so, small firms will have more clarity on when that invaluable and skilled member of staff will return to work.'

It is proposed that clarity in this area would also make it easier to arrange cover for maternity and paternity leave. The FSB says it is not unfeasible for a mother to return to work within a few weeks of giving birth, enabling her partner to take her remaining maternity leave. This may become more common when Additional Paternity Leave (APL) comes into force in April 2011, allowing a male employee to take up to 26 weeks' leave to care for the child before its first birthday. Under this change, fathers are entitled to receive Additional Statutory Paternity Pay during the time their partner would have been receiving Statutory Maternity Pay.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA, believes the FSB's proposals could benefit some nurseries. 'With a largely female workforce, nurseries can find it a struggle to manage leave and ensure adequate cover,' she says. 'It is an interesting proposal that employees should be able to select the time-frame in which maternity leave can be taken - for example, compressing maternity pay and leave into a period of four months.'

She adds, 'It is important that any such move continues to support parental choice regarding time off and that it does not add an administrative burden to businesses in terms of payroll.'

Contact the Federation of Small Businesses at www.fsb.org.uk.

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