Our thoughts on the world of employment law - and beyond.

Sir Richard Branson - family friendly trailblazer or cynical marketing ploy?

Just as employers (and, dare I say it, more than a few employment lawyers) have emerged from putting a cold towel over their heads after trying to decipher and implement the details of the shared parental leave legislation, and work out who gets paid what and when, Sir Richard Branson and Virgin have blown the story out of the water with his announcement of one year’s full pay for employees who take shared parental leave regardless of gender.  It has been heralded in some quarters as a triumph for equality, putting paternity leave on an equal footing with maternity leave.

Not quite, I hear those of you say who have read the Daily Mail carefully, he hasn’t actually given one year’s full paid parental leave to everyone has he, only a few select senior managers so it is hardly ground breaking.  Well, yes and no.  From what I can establish, the entitlement is only given to those employed by Virgin Management, which is the investment and brand licensing office at the heart of the Virgin Group.  Also, the pay is service related and so those with more than four years’ service are entitled to 100% of their basic salary over the 52 week period of shared parental leave.  Those with less than two years’ service are entitled to 25 percent (still excellent, and above the statutory minimum).  So yes, admittedly there are conditions and it isn’t applicable to everyone employed by Virgin.  Some commentators have said that in reality this will only impact upon approximately 140 people employed at offices in London and Geneva.

However, although it may not apply to everyone within the Virgin group, I believe that this policy is genuinely ground breaking in more ways than one and I can only applaud Virgin for the decision they have made.  This is not only about the shared parental leave itself, as the decision will have far wider implications.  First, it will encourage fathers to take parental leave as there will be no loss of salary for taking it – fathers will actually be able to afford to take a significant period of parental leave should they wish.  Second, it will promote equality, and not only in the taking of the leave itself, but also in recruitment at managerial levels as there will be no higher business risk in recruiting or promoting a female employee compared to a male employee and having any justification for concern that they may go on maternity leave, which sadly remains a common perception and a recurring feature in Employment Tribunal claims.  If both male and female employees are equally as likely to take parental leave for the same amount of time, this removes gender as a factor for any recruitment or promotion decisions.  If anything, recruiting a woman may be less “risky” as they are less likely to have children after a certain age, whereas men are not so limited - think Charlie Chaplin, a father at 73; Clint Eastwood, 66; Rod Stewart, 66; George Lucas, 69; Bruce Willis 57 and even John Humphrys of the Today programme, 56 - not that I can see Sir Richard Branson recruiting them to his Virgin Management Group, (although that would be interesting) but I am sure you get my point. 

What is more, even a hard bitten cynical employment lawyer must surely feel their heart lift just a little bit to hear Sir Richard Branson’s statement that “if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business”, his aim being to support staff so that they can enjoy their parental leave and his vision to “continue our work in changing business for good”.  Well done Sir Richard; not every business can afford to copy you, but you have set the bar high, you are setting an excellent example and you deserve full credit for it.   

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