Rachel Webb Wiles: How to manage shared parental leave

shared parental leave SPLWe have all heard of shared parental leave (SPL), but should employers be encouraging employees to take it or is it just a headache for the business?

SPL was designed to address the gender imbalance in care giving and to give parents more choice and flexibility in their child’s first year. When fathers take SPL, it helps to reduce the motherhood penalty, which is the reduction of a woman’s earning potential after having children and promotes gender equality in the workplace.

SPL is a statutory right. It is therefore important that businesses put a clear SPL policy in place. However, there are other compelling reasons to implement it. In today’s challenging recruiting environment, offering family-friendly policies and taking action to create an equitable workforce helps attract talent and retain employees.

As SPL can be shared between partners, both parents may take leave at the same time, or each parent can take leave separately. It does not have to be taken in one block but can be split into three different periods. This can be challenging to manage from a resourcing perspective, particularly if an employee takes multiple short periods of leave within 12-months.

Recruiting someone on a fixed-term contract simply doesn’t work for SPL. Often, over-stretched teams absorb the extra work with no additional help and, what was lauded as an employee benefit, can result in existing employees feeling overworked and unsupported.

However, there are ways to implement SPL in a way which benefits both employees and businesses. Employers should be innovative and invest time in exploring the recruiting resources available. These solutions exist in many sectors, and it is worth exploring options.

Regarding steps employers could take to improve the take up of SPL, they should talk about it and ensure that the policy is widely known. If employers have individuals that have taken SPL, ask them to share their stories. Plan carefully: it is not just about putting a policy in place. Absences need to be properly resourced so that teams feel supported. When implemented effectively, SPL is a real employee benefit that can lead to a happier, healthier, more equitable workforce.

Rachel Webb Wiles is a lawyer at The Legal Director