News analysis: Employers come to grips with paternity legislation

Employers are having to come to grips with new legislation governing paternity leave and paternity pay entitlement, says Jennifer Paterson

Additional paternity leave (APL) and additional statutory paternity pay (ASPP), which came into effect on 3 April under the Work and Families Act 2006, gave all working fathers or partners whose baby is due on, or after, 3 April 2011 the right to apply for an additional 26 weeks’ paternity leave. APL cannot begin until the baby is 20 weeks old and depends on the mother returning to work within her maternity leave period with at least two weeks of statutory maternity pay (SMP) untaken. The maximum amount of statutory payments per family is capped at 39 weeks.

However, the APL Survey published by charity Working Families at the end of March 2011, found 40% of employers were not ready for the changes, although 60% had already updated their policies. In the research, employers raised a number of concerns about the new legislation.

The first is around the unpredictability of take-up. Elizabeth Gardiner, policy and political campaigns officer at Working Families, said: “The number of organisations that monitor ordinary paternity leave (OPL) is very small, so they have no idea who the fathers are. If employers do not know who took OPL, then, down the line, they could get a request for APL on eight weeks’ notice. We are talking to employers about how important it is for them to start monitoring OPL. They do not know if this is going to be a big issue, and that makes workplace planning quite hard.”

The second issue raised by employers is whether they should enhance APL pay. Almost 20% of those surveyed by Working Families that have made policy changes plan to pay fathers six weeks at full pay when they take APL.

One reason some employers are considering enhancing what they offer fathers during APL is the question of fairness if they offer mothers enhanced maternity pay. Gardiner said: “The government’s guidance is that the legal position is they do not have to. The real question from an employee perspective is how does it feel to be a male employee getting the statutory minimum when they look across the desk and see a woman getting full pay for six months? Employers are really taking on board how it feels from the employee perspective.”

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has already received a number of calls from employers about the regulations. Andrew Cowler, helpline manager at Acas, said: “The queries we are getting at the moment are from employers that are looking at changing their policies. Employers seem pretty clued up about most of it.”

Banking group Santander brought in the swapping of maternity and paternity leave last year. If both parents work for Santander, mothers are able to swap the second half of the maternity leave period with their partner. Claire Osborne, HR policy manager at Santander, said: “We got ahead of the game and said we would do it where both [parents] work for Santander.”

Santander has also enhanced its paternity provision in line with the legislation. “It is fairly early, so there has not been take-up,” said Osborne. “Behind the scenes, we have had to put in a number of additional processes, and create a form to fill in and get validation around the qualifying period. In certain scenarios, such as where the woman earns a bigger salary, it will be beneficial.”

Santander expects interest in family-friendly policies to continue to increase. Ian Cunning, senior reward manager, said: “We do not expect this to be solely related to APL. It is likely to be [due to] a combination of factors, including tax and other legislative changes, as well as an increasing focus on work-life balance.”

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