Equality and Human Rights Commission unveils radical proposals for parental leave

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has unveiled radical changes to parental leave to tackle the gender pay gap and give parents more support in bringing up their children.

In its Working Better report launched on 30 March, the EHRC proposed that fathers and mothers be given four months of parental leave, with at least eight weeks paid at 90% of salary and the rest at the statutory rate.

In addition, the Commission proposed that the first two weeks’ paternity leave at the birth of their child should be retained for fathers but at 90% pay. It also proposed that working fathers should be entitled to four months of dedicated parental leave, eight weeks of which would be paid at 90% of salary, after the mother’s six months of maternity leave comes to an end. Fathers would be able to take this leave at any time up until their child’s fifth birthday.

It also proposed that mothers should continue to receive 26 weeks of dedicated maternity leave but they should receive 90% of salary for the whole period instead of just for the first six weeks. After six months mothers would get the same parental leave arrangements as fathers.

Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the EHRC, said: “We are proposing one of the most radical changes in our approach to parental leave in a decade. We have spoken to parents, to employers, to unions and to leading academic experts in the field, and we believe that the Working Better report lays out a road map to 2020 which will put Britain ahead of the curve in terms of modern working practices.

“Flexibility is a tool many British businesses use to unlock talent. changing the way we approached parental leave could be one way of tackling the gender pay gap. By supporting men to be good fathers as well as good employees, it would also help children to be better at school and equip them for the world of work. And it would help families on lower incomes to balance work and the rest of their lives.”

The proposed strategy, costing around £5.3bn, would be introduced incrementally until 2020.

Kevin Jaquiss, a partner responsible for HR consultancy work at law firm Cobbetts, said: “I think one of the biggest issues employers wrestle with at the moment on maternity leave and parental leave is the complexity of it. Employers are placed at the sharp end of having to explain to people what their rights are and show them how to exercise those rights. It is a very complicated process, [especially] if you add in a relatively complicated inter-related parental leave set up that talks about eight weeks each and then talks about four months that can be taken by either parent.”