Shared parental leave gives couples the opportunity to share time away from work, to care for a new baby or adopted child. It is designed to give families more flexibility on how they balance work and childcare and address the gender pay gap. It sounds very simple, but the rules that explain who qualifies are not straightforward.

There are many considerations that will influence parents’ decisions on who should provide the primary care for a child. The decision is a very personal one, so what role do employers have? The introduction of shared parental leave was another step towards creating a more equal society and to give parents greater flexibility. If businesses are serious about providing more family-friendly workplaces then it’s crucial that they understand how shared parental leave works and understand how they should support staff to make the right choices.

In this new research, pay concerns were found to be the main factor for 80% of respondents. Men were found to be more likely to take up shared parental leave if their employer offered more than the statutory parental pay, which is currently £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). If businesses are keen to encourage more men to take shared parental leave, offering more attractive pay could be a good strategy. However, they would need to offer the same package to female employees to avoid discrimination. By offering more help to employees with children, there is also a risk that businesses could alienate employees who have chosen not to have families, so all employees should be considered if any changes are being made.  Alternative flexible working arrangements might be offered to them.

Regardless of whether or not businesses offer the statutory parental pay, or an enhanced package, it is important that they make employees aware that it is an option. It is a good idea to know where to direct staff to find out detailed information about shared parental leave and to have a policy that explains to staff how the scheme works and how to request it.

Employees also have obligations to notify their employer at least eight weeks before their leave starts. Starting discussions earlier is likely to help both employers and employees plan and prepare.”

About the author: Jeremy Harvey is head of employment and HR at Coodes’ Liskeard office.