The House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee has published a report, ‘Fathers and the workplace’ (http://bit.ly/fathers_workplace), making a number of proposals to improve fathers’ rights at work. Building upon the introduction of shared parental leave, the Committee believes that these changes are necessary to enable fathers to play a greater role within the family. In turn, this may assist social change and help address the causes of the gender pay gap.
The proposals within the Report include the following:
- remove the qualifying period for paternity leave to make it a ‘day one’ right;
- increase Statutory Paternity Pay to 90% of earnings and give self-employed fathers a ‘paternity allowance’;
- give fathers a right to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments;
- consider replacing the cumbersome shared parental leave system (which has had a very low take up) with an additional 12-week paternity leave entitlement, to be taken in the first year. This would be paid at 90% of earnings for four weeks, followed by a statutory rate for eight weeks, and would not affect the mother’s maternity leave or pay;
- bring forward legislation to ensure that all new jobs are advertised as flexible by default, unless there are immediate strong business reasons against it; and
- consider amending the Equality Act 2010 to make “paternity” a protected characteristic.
Without these legislative changes, the Tribunal system is limited in the amount of assistance that it can offer to fathers. Two recent cases, Capita Customer Management Ltd v Ali and Hextall v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police, both involved a situation where employers provided an enhanced maternity pay package, but no enhancement for shared parental leave. In both cases, Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected arguments that this could amount to sex discrimination against men.
The legal reasoning looks sound. The primary purpose of maternity leave, at least in the early stages, is to protect the health and wellbeing of a woman during pregnancy and following childbirth. That differs from the purpose of shared parental leave, which focuses upon providing care for a child, and so a direct comparison is not possible. However, improving the rights of fathers/partners does not mean reducing mothers’ rights and, as recognised by the Women and Equalities Committee, may actually assist to breakdown the traditional stereotypes of their respective roles in childcare. So expect further developments before long!