Will O2’s paternity leave offer work?

3 May 2019 By Philip Richardson

The decision by the mobile operator to offer longer, paid paternity leave could be a game-changer which will force competitors to follow suit, says Philip Richardson

O2 recently announced that it would increase paid paternity leave to 14 weeks for all permanent employees, including heterosexual and same-sex couples, adoptive and surrogate partners. This is more than most UK firms, which continue to offer the legal minimum. 

While some high street retailers offer head office staff longer paternity leave, employees in O2’s retail stores can also claim the full 14 weeks paid leave, making the mobile phone retailer’s package one of the best available for shop workers.

The move could ultimately herald the end of an era when many new fathers felt they could not afford to take more than the statutory two weeks paternity leave.  

Announcing the policy, O2’s chief HR officer, Ann Pickering, said: “Giving new parents the flexibility to spend more time at home when having a child is part and parcel of modern-day parenting. We know that families come in all shapes and sizes and understand the importance of ensuring that we give all new parents the opportunity to spend valuable time supporting their new family. 

“We don’t want our people to feel as though they have to choose between their career and bringing up a family. We are committed champions on flexible working, which is key for promoting a more diverse, balanced and inclusive culture. We’ve seen that encouraging flexible working has a direct impact on motivating and retaining the best people, as well as attracting top talent to our business.’

O2 will reap significant benefits both in the short and long term from its move. First, it’s an indication of a progressive and forward-thinking company that places great emphasis on the wellbeing of its staff. 

This family-first mentality significantly benefits employee engagement, as well as the company’s ability to attract and retain talent. 

In the hours after the company announced this new incentive, many of its employees took to social media to say how proud they were to work there. 

Second, O2 are using this as an opportunity to develop junior members of staff, encouraging them to fill the shoes of those more senior colleagues taking the paternity offer. 

Again, this shows a commitment to employees at all levels of the business and offsets any concerns about work slipping or productivity being lost.

Enhanced benefits are now increasingly common and over recent years there has been a steady improvement in both maternity and paternity leave packages on offer. 

Of course, these are largely found in large corporates, who have the resources to be able to offer these types of benefits, but we have seen progress in respect of paternity rights made at all levels of the business spectrum. 

What makes O2’s offer stand out is both the length of the benefit and the fact it is being offered at full pay. 

With UK employment hitting record highs, O2’s move has put it ahead of the pack in the competition for employees. 

This will undoubtedly force the hand of many other businesses with the means to follow suit.

Until recently, employment law and employers themselves often seemed to have been left behind by the social changes of the last three decades which saw the number of mothers in full-time employment grow exponentially and a rise in the number of fathers looking to spend more – or even the majority – of their time at home.

Employment rights for mothers remains a very prominent social issue. Now employment rights for fathers is also rising up the agenda, to the benefit of working families and children. 

Philip Richardson is a partner and head of employment law at Stephensons

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