New bill could force large companies to divulge parental leave policies

Reporting would tackle widespread pregnancy discrimination, says MP

Large businesses could be required to publish their parental leave and pay policies under a bill presented in parliament yesterday, in a bid to tackle what campaigners say is widespread maternity discrimination in the UK. 

The private members bill could force businesses with 250 or more staff to be transparent about their arrangements for shared parental leave, maternity and paternity pay. 

“A headline figure of 54,000 women in Britain are forced out of their jobs every year as a result of pregnancy discrimination, and when I was introducing shared parental leave as a minister I was really struck by research in which one of the barriers men cited over how comfortable they were about taking shared parental leave was a concern about how it would impact on their career,” Jo Swinson, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and sponsor of the bill, told People Management.

“Ultimately, this is not good for the economy – just because someone is a parent it doesn’t mean that they lose value, so it’s a very inefficient use of talent because people are forced out or feel they have to leave their jobs.”

Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, described the proposal as an “encouraging move” towards greater transparency. She added that pushing companies to reveal their parental provisions could encourage more employers to enhance their parental leave and pay policies, which would “undoubtedly have a positive impact on employees”.  

“Increased transparency about parental leave policies shines a spotlight on an organisation’s offering and could help break the taboo of employees asking about their entitlements, which many are often reluctant to do,” she said. “It could also help level the playing field for job applicants so that they wouldn’t have to ask about the employer’s family-friendly provision at interview, which would reduce the potential for discrimination.”

However, Julia Waltham, head of policy and campaigns at Working Families, stressed that good parental leave policies were not wholly indicative of gender equality and work-life balance in a workplace. 

“While an organisation might have fantastic parental leave policies in place, translating them into a better lived experience for working parents on an ongoing basis is the real challenge for employers, large and small,” she told People Management. “This, of course, is more difficult to measure.”

Statutory maternity pay currently entitles women to 90 per cent of their regular pay for the first six weeks of maternity leave and £145.18 a week for a further 33 weeks. 

Meanwhile, shared parental leave has seen a slow start since being introduced in April 2015, with only 7,100 men receiving shared parental pay in the 2016-17 tax year, compared with 221,000 who received statutory paternity pay in the same period. 

However, Swinson was positive about the future of the initiative. “Of course we want to drive take-up faster and there are different ways to achieve that; one of the best is to dedicate more leave specifically to dads, and address the financial element, so when employers enhance shared parental pay in the same way they do maternity pay, lots of people will start taking it up,” she said 

“Other barriers are cultural: tackling those means taking up leadership and role modelling, and encouraging shared parental leave rather than responding as though it’s an unusual exception, which in some cases can be the reaction.

“That’s where the bill can help because, like gender pay, it forces employers to have a transparent conversation, and include what men as well as women might consider for their careers at the stage where they have a family or a child.” 

The bill is scheduled for its second reading on 15 June.