Making paternity leave possible: safeguarding the workplace against prejudices faced by new fathers
According to research published in the 2019 State of The World’s Fathers (SOWF) report produced by Promundo, 85% of fathers “would do anything to be very involved” in the early weeks or months of caring for their newly born or adopted child. Anything – it appears – except taking the parental leave to which they are entitled under the Employment Act 2002 and the Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014.
The results of a recent survey by the software company PowWowNow reveal that only 14% of fathers in the UK have taken shared parental leave since it was introduced, although 85% of fathers surveyed wish they had taken more time off to look after their child. This insight of current corporate culture readily reveals why the uptake of shared parental leave is so low among new fathers. Eight out of ten fathers surveyed attest to the social stigma that pervades around the idea of looking after one’s children.
For employers, understanding the issues faced by new fathers is crucial if they are to reduce the likelihood of disputes and claims around parental leave. It is especially important that employers understand the nature of any issues faced by new fathers which relate directly to company culture, how these may be contributing to reluctance to take paid leave and how the existing company policies could be changed to better accommodate the needs of new parents.
Bullying, harassment, job loss and demotion: the issues faced by new fathers
Bim Alofemi, MP for Hitchen and Harpenden, made history in February 2019 as “the first father in parliamentary history to vote by proxy while on paternity leave.” Proud to hail the beginning of a new era where men feel increasingly able to embrace available opportunities to participate more fully in caring for their newborn.
However, many male professionals do not feel this sense of empowerment, nor do they view their right to paternity leave as an advantage that will enrich their lives overall. Instead, they are keenly aware of the likelihood of being bullied and mocked by their peers or being financially impoverished by the long-term impact on their career as a result of taking time off for parenting.
Employers need to recognize when workplaces have a culture which is prejudiced against men sharing child-caring roles, and take steps to change it. Companies also need to be aware that they can be held vicariously liable for bullying and harassing behavior which occurs between members of staff.
Paternity leave: the current policies
Paternity leave has been a possibility for new fathers since the introduction of the Employment Act 2002, which states that if an employee has been working for their employer for over 26 weeks, by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due or the week in which
the adoptive parent has been notified of a match for adoption, they are entitled to either
one or two weeks’ paternity leave. This is paid at a statutory rate and must be taken within the first 56 days following childbirth or the placement of an adopted child. All other terms of employment remain in force during the period of leave.
Although it is very uncommon for men to take more than two weeks’ paternity leave, they are in fact entitled to spend more time caring for their newborn under the Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014. These entitle an employee and their partner to Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), if they are adopting a baby or child. Between them, a couple can share up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay.
However, just four years after its introduction the Trade Union Congress (TUC) is calling for an overhaul of this legislation, which just 9,200 parents in the UK took advantage of last year. This is less than 1% of those eligible to do so.
Planning for a brighter future: policies that facilitate parenthood
Research by the TUC has also shown that the majority of employed fathers with young children work full time, although the Modern Families Index by Working Families finds that they would appreciate more flexibility in the workplace. The greater the range of options offered to new fathers to facilitate them in their working life – like the ability to work from home, to follow a different working pattern or to job share – the more greatly professional responsibilities can harmonize with fatherhood.
In terms of paving the way for fathers to have a better experience of paternity leave going forward, employers would benefit from focussing on the following on two principal areas:
Changing attitudes. It is impossible to change human nature, and therefore to totally preclude members of staff clashing with one another. However, employers can take certain steps to change aspects of the corporate culture. With the aim of increasing acceptance of people taking paternity leave among the workforce, employers may need to devise specific anti-bullying and harassment policies and implement these with training.
Educating staff as to what paternity leave involves, including their rights and how to go about taking it can also help to normalize the idea. A full understanding of what paternity leave entails will help make it feel accessible to those who need it and promote acceptance on a company-wide level.
Enforcing policies. If staff can see the effects of policies, they are more likely to abide by them. If a member of staff is found to be bullying, harassing or otherwise upsetting another employee for taking paternity leave and this results in appropriate disciplinary action, this will deter others from similar behavior. Effective discipline helps to create a culture which dissolves prejudices against new fathers.
With global campaigns like Dove Men+Care championing the rights of new fathers to paternity leave, it is reasonable to anticipate that societal attitudes will evolve. Although it may take some years for paternity leave to become socially normalized, employers should anticipate its growing popularity, and take precautions to ensure that their policies protect new fathers from bullying and harassment.