Nicola O'Hanlon
Nicola O'Hanlon
Senior Associate

Articles From the Team

Stay at home Mum… or Dad?

Personally (and this is the voice of someone who doesn’t have any children) I find it hard enough getting back in to the swing of work when I’ve been away for two weeks, never mind after six or even twelve months maternity leave!! And I have ultimate respect for any one returning to work on this basis.

Previously, it has always been the case that the woman has to make the decision to put their career on hold at least for a period of time when starting a family. But what if you don’t want to? *gasp*

Shared parental leave came in to force in the UK on 5th April 2015 and offered the flexibility to working parents in the first year following the birth of their child to share childcare. The aim was to propel more women through the glass ceiling and fashion a generation of nurturing fathers…

Parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave – 37 of which is paid providing they meet the eligibility criteria. The remaining 13 weeks entitlement if taken is unpaid. Fathers are entitled to two weeks paid paternity and Mothers must still take the initial two weeks but then both parents have a flexible choice of how to split the rest.

To be eligible – one parent must be an employee with 26 weeks of service with the same employer by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due and the other must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date, earning at least £30 per week in 13 of the 66 weeks.

The question is whether the new rules actually make any financial sense. According to The Lawyer, 5% of all eligible lawyers have taken shared parental leave since the start of 2015.

Based of a survey of UK and US law firms, 63 out of 1,303 lawyers took shared parental leave in the last two years. In 2015, 2% of lawyers (or 16 out of 713) took shared parental leave. In November 2016, 9% (47 out of a total 527) opted to share their leave.

In 2016, the standout firm was Allen & Overy (A&O), with 10 fathers opting to have shared parental leave and five mothers opting to do the same in comparison to just one parent in 2015.

A&O global HR director Sasha Hardman said that the firm has “tried to progress women, in terms of fee-earners, through to partnership to increase the number of senior women we have”. This is encouraged by offering paternity coaching to encourage the transition and to put a support network in place to assist with this.

But what about from the male perspective??? In addition to giving the woman the opportunity to return to her career, it gives the man the opportunity to take more of a part in the upbringing of their children but this is obviously depending upon whether there will be any financial or career implications from it. Lawyers who were questioned about this said it was an opportunity to share the responsibility of childcare, which was previously unavailable to them, a chance to see their children developing and could help close the gender gap.

The arrival of a baby isn’t a surprise, you have nine months to decide how the parental leave will be shared and providing you communicate your plans as early as possible, handovers, introducing new personnel and continuity of service can be achieved.

Ultimately, shared parental leave is a personal choice but will continue to be influenced by employer’s policies and attitudes and will help to make the decision easier for parents.

For more information contact Nicola O'Hanlon at BCL Legal.

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