The government is asking for views on three consultations which would reform the way family related leave and pay works, in order to provide families with more support and flexibility.
The first proposal is on parental leave and pay. There is acknowledgement in the proposal that gender divisions in family-leave need to be addressed, and the first of the consultations is looking at maternity, paternity, adoption, parental and shared parental leave and pay. The government is evaluating shared parental and maternity/paternity leave with the aims of increasing flexibility, supporting mothers returning to work, addressing the gender pay gap and trying to make sure that the burden and costs which may be passed onto employers as a result of any changes are minimised.
The government is seeking views as to whether it is more beneficial to new parents to increase the amount of pay and/or leave that can be taken, or whether it would be beneficial to be able to take leave flexibly and not in the 6 months following birth. There is also an emphasis on encouraging fathers to take both paternity leave (for new babies) and parental leave (which can be used for a child up to 18). The proposal specifically references the Icelandic model of leave for new parents, in which both parents are entitled to have 3 months' paid leave each, rather than it being the norm for one parent to take 6 months.
The second proposal is addressing neonatal care leave and pay. This proposal is concerned with babies who are born prematurely, or babies who are born full term, but require specialist care. There is a suggestion that one week's leave should be granted for each week that the baby requires neonatal care which would be tacked onto to the end of the parent's maternity or paternity leave. It would also mean that spouses, civil partners or partners who will be living with the mother and baby would also be entitled to take the leave. This leave would be paid and would be in addition to standard maternity or paternity pay.
The third proposal is concerned with making policies relating to parental and family leave more transparent. Employees, the government has argued, need to be more aware of what is available to them and what they are entitled to. This could be achieved by making it compulsory for employers to advertise whether a job can be done flexibly, and if employers employ over 250 people, publishing their family-related leave and pay polices.
These proposals are only at consultation stage and it remains to be seen which proposals the government decides to take forward. The first consultation has an end date of 29 November 2019, whereas the second and third close on 11 October 2019. These proposals could have a significant impact on the way that employers have to budget for parental and family leave, and it is recommended therefore that employers and employees keep an eye on how these consultations progress. The government appears to be committed to taking action to make arrangements more flexible for parents and further reporting on these issues is expected later in the year. We will keep you updated on all developments in this area.