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by Private: Joanne O’Connell

I’m going to be a dad! But what about shared parental leave?

I’m going to become a Dad in a few months. I want to take shared parental leave but don’t want to damage my career. Any advice?

On the face of it, shared parental leave (SPL) sounds great. Introduced in 2015, the scheme allows parents to share a year’s worth of leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Parents can decide to be off work at the same time and/or take it in turns to have periods of leave to look after the child. However, the take-up of SPL has been low.

Figures show that only two per cent of eligible couples take the chance to split care-giving for their new-born. One of the reasons for this is money. For the first six weeks, the person on leave gets 90 per cent of their earnings, then it falls to £139.78 per week (or 90 per cent of earnings, whichever is lower) for the next 33. In many cases, men earn more than women (recent gender pay gap figures show that three out of every four businesses in the UK pay men more than women, with an average gap of 9.8 per cent). So, no matter how much they might like to balance the childcare more equally, for many couples, SPL doesn’t add up financially.

However, that’s not the only concern. Studies also show that men worry that SPL will damage their long-term prospects at work. Nearly two-thirds of workers say men are less committed to their career if they take up shared parental leave according to the latest Hays UK Gender Diversity Report. So, if you’re worried about being passed over for promotion or not treated fairly at work because of taking time off to look after a child, what can you do?

First, it’s important to remember that legally your employer has a duty to ensure that taking SPL does not damage your career.

Tom Moyes, a Partner at Blacks Solicitors LLP, says: “An employer must not subject an employee to disadvantage or dismiss them because they plan to take, are taking or took SPL or even that the employer believed that they were considering taking SPL or that the employee refused to work during SPL.”

In fact, you should be able to return to work after SPL and be in the same position you were before you left. Generally speaking, an employee has a right to return to the job in which they were employed before they took SPL. There are some exceptions and it does depend whether this is the first block of SPL you have taken, for example. But while the law does protect employees who are taking SPL, it’s understandable that you’re concerned about how it’s going to play out at work.

Following the correct procedure for notifying your employer about SPL can help the process go more smoothly – you don’t want to cause unnecessary inconvenience. It can also help to talk (formally and informally) to your manager and/HR department about SPL and keep them in the loop of your plans to return to work. It may be that the business needs to assign your work to your colleagues in your absence or recruit another member of staff, so being as helpful as possible (when you’re doing a handover of work, for example) may help ease any potential problems. However, if you do think you’re being discriminated against because of SPL, find an employment solicitor. He or she can help you assess whether you have a claim.



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