Only one in 10 new fathers have reportedly opted to take parental leave since it was introduced in 2015, while a recent survey by software company PowWowNow found that almost half of fathers have suffered discrimination at work after taking parental leave. So why is uptake so low, and what can employers do to minimise the risk of discrimination?
What does the law say about parental leave?
In accordance with the Employment Act 2002, if an employee has 26 weeks’ service with their employer, they can take up to two weeks’ paternity leave. They may take this period of leave during the first 56 days following childbirth or placement of an adopted child. The two-week period of leave is paid at a statutory rate, and all other terms of employment remain in force during this time.
The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 brought in additional rights to entitle an employee and their partner to shared parental leave (SPL) and statutory shared parental pay (ShPP), if they are having a baby or adopting a child. This allows them to share up to 50 weeks leave and up to 37 weeks pay between them.
Issues faced by new fathers
Eight out of 10 men surveyed in the PowWowNow survey felt affected by the cultural stigma around fathers taking time out to look after their children and 44 per cent experienced discrimination in the workplace after taking up their right to parental leave and flexible working. Many referenced instances of verbal abuse and mockery. This treatment poses a significant risk for employers, as they can be held vicariously liable for the bullying and harassing behaviour of one member of staff against another.
The results found that over a third of fathers also felt they suffered a negative impact on their career after taking parental leave, with 17 per cent suffering a job loss and nearly 20 per cent being demoted. This demonstrates a culture in British workplaces that is still prejudiced against men sharing child caring roles.
According to the TUC, the majority of employed fathers with young children work full-time, but the Modern Families Index by Working Families showed that fathers want more flexibility in the workplace. Alternatives to the traditional 9-5 structure will therefore appeal to many working fathers.
What can employers do to change things?
To change this situation, employers could change their approach to allow options for working remotely from home, permitting different working different patterns or job-sharing for fathers.
Ideally, this should be accompanied by creating a culture within the workplace that discourages negative attitudes and behaviours towards those fathers taking leave. Employers should have clear policies on expected standards of behaviour in anti-bullying and harassment policies, and these should be communicated to staff and reinforced with training.
Policies should be backed up with action such as disciplinary sanctions to address bad behaviour among staff. It is not enough to simply have a policy. In order to be able to successfully defend a discrimination claim, employers need to demonstrate they take action to enforce their policies. It is also worth making staff aware that they could be held personally liable for discrimination.
It is important to bear in mind that changes in attitude take time and it may be a while before this becomes the social norm. If employers are not seen to be addressing the risk of bullying and harassment towards those taking leave, however, they will be exposed to liability and damage to their reputation. In a society that is becoming increasingly litigious, employers are at greater risk of complaints and claims if they do not take action to support new fathers.
Pam Loch is managing director of Loch Associates Group and Loch Employment Law