Common examples of voluntary benefits for working parents are childcare vouchers, a subsidised emergency childcare service and allowing employees the option to extend private medical cover to their children.
Some employers also run parents’ networks or seminars, offer maternity coaching and have a dedicated parent and child room on-site.
Voluntary benefits such as these help employers to recruit, motivate and retain working parents. Childcare vouchers can be offered through a salary sacrifice arrangement, which affords advantages in tax and national insurance contributions for both employers and employees.
There is no obligation for employers to provide these benefits, but employers are required to provide suitable facilities for pregnant women and nursing mothers to rest.
Further, it is best practice to remind employees about the benefits available before they go on parental leave or after they return.
For employee benefits schemes to be successful and staff engagement to be high, it is important for employers to stress the supportive nature of such schemes. From a technical perspective, it is likely to be necessary for employers to continue to provide childcare vouchers to women on maternity leave and parents on adoption leave or additional paternity leave in addition to statutory maternity leave. This may add unforeseen costs to the scheme.
Other voluntary non-cash benefits should also continue to be made available to employees who are on parental leave, in order to avoid any claims of indirect sex discrimination.
If a subsidised emergency childcare service is offered, this should be signposted in any policy dealing with employees’ rights regarding time off for their dependants.
Alex Fricke is associate, employment, pensions and benefits at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer