On 5 April 2015, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in the UK, allowing eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of SPL. There was widespread reporting in the national press on its one year anniversary this week that the uptake of SPL among men is just 1%, with the main obstacle to change being the perception that taking an extended period of time off work would be disapproved of and be career limiting. This figure was taken from a report by My Family Care, a company that helps companies develop family friendly working practices, following a survey it carried out.
Subsequent reports have pointed out that My Family Care's claim was actually misleading, in that the 1% referred to 1% of men in the whole workforce, not of new fathers eligible to take shared parental leave. We have not yet seen a copy of the survey report; however, recent reports indicate that of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 10% had had a baby or adopted a child in the previous year. Of these employees, 24% of women and 30% of men said that they had taken SPL. Similarly, a survey carried out by Totaljobs has found that, of 86 employees who had had a child in the past year, 31% had opted to take up SPL; 48% did not use their right; and 21% said they were not eligible. Of those who had opted to take SPL, a third had shared it equally with their partner.
As the sample sizes on these surveys were relatively small, the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt; however, it is encouraging to hear that the take up among fathers may be quite a bit higher than reported in the press earlier in the week. Part of the challenge in understanding the level of uptake is that employers may not know whether or not a man is eligible for SPL unless they apply (for instance, if they choose not to tell their employer that their partner is having a baby). Anecdotally, we have not had a lot of requests for advice from employer clients about SPL, which may mean that they are not receiving many requests or alternatively that they are comfortable dealing with the requests without taking legal advice (or a mixture of the two).
No doubt we will hear more about SPL over the coming months and years, particularly given the government's plan to extend it to working grandparents by 2018. Quite how that will work, with the need for co-ordination between up to six different employers of the six potential parties involved, or what the uptake will be, remains to be seen.