Since 5 April 2015 it has been possible for parents to share leave following the birth or adoption of a child.
In addition to two weeks of initial maternity leave for the mother, up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared between parents. Parents can take time off at the same time to look after a child. The leave must be between the baby's birth and first birthday, or within one year of adoption. The shared leave can be taken in one block or split between periods of work.
Parents must give their employer eight weeks' notice of their intention to take the leave and the pattern of leave must be agreed with the employer.
A key factor is that previously, fathers were entitled to one or two weeks paid ordinary paternity leave, or up to 26 weeks' paid additional paternity leave - but only if the mother or co-adopter returned to work.
In December 2016, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that only 5% of new fathers and 8% of new mothers had opted to take shared parental leave since its introduction. The complexity of the system and low payment levels are cited as two reasons for this.
With this as the back drop, it makes it all the more interesting that a new father has recently won a claim of sex discrimination against his employer after they indicated that his pay would be cut if he took paternity leave. It is believed to be the first case where a man has won at a tribunal in these circumstances since the introduction of the shared parental leave scheme.
Mr Ali was a call centre worker for Capita and wanted to take shared parental leave after the birth of his daughter when his wife suffered post-natal depression. He was told that he would only get two weeks full pay. Women in a similar position were entitled to fourteen weeks full pay.
The Judge said: 'It was accepted that he was denied that benefit and was deterred from taking the leave and was less favourably treated as a man. Either parent can perform the role of caring for their baby in its first year depending on the circumstances and choices made by the parents. Inevitably more mothers will take primary responsibility from birth and immediately afterwards but that does not necessarily follow.'
Whilst it is a decision that is not binding in other cases, it is hoped that the case will be an important milestone in cementing the rights of both parents to take leave when children are born or adopted.
Employers would be well reminded to ensure that their family related policies are robust and up to date and in the complex area of time off for having children, ensure that their procedures do not discriminate against either sex.
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