Supporting fathers at work
In recent years, ideas about the participation of fathers in family life have undergone profound change, and it has become increasingly untenable to assume that mothers will always act as the primary carer for young children and babies.
Changes have resulted from a variety of factors including:
- Changing views of social norms.
- The impact of improvements in career progression and equal pay for women, meaning that a higher proportion of women are the main or equal earners of a couple, so that there may be economic reasons for a father taking on primary responsibility for child care.
- Changes in Employment Law that recognise the desire of fathers to play a more active role in family life, and provide for appropriate leave provisions to assist with this.
Many organisations have recognised the importance of ensuring that fathers, adoptive fathers and those whose partners are pregnant, receive full support throughout the pregnancy, Paternity/Adoption leave (or Shared Parental leave) and after their return to work. Such an approach has significant business benefits including:
- Recruitment and retention: for most businesses, recruiting (advertising costs, agency fees and interviewing time) and developing staff are amongst their most significant costs. Therefore, it makes sound business sense to protect this investment by focusing on retaining your talent if they have taken time out for family reasons. The Chartered Institute of Professional Development estimates that the average cost of replacing a job-leaver is £7,750, but this may be considerably higher in the case of highly skilled employees or qualified professionals. For single fathers, support from their organisation in respect of leave and flexible working is often the key factor enabling them to continue remaining in employment.
- Engagement: where working fathers have access to flexible working options they ‘displayed higher degrees of commitment to their employer than those who are unable to work flexibly’, and an improved perception of their employer as being ‘more committed to, and trusting of, them in turn’.
- Gender diversity: visible support for working fathers also helps to create a supportive culture that has a positive impact for working mothers and on improved gender diversity especially at higher levels.
This guidance is intended to give some practical advice on some of the policies, processes and support systems you might want to put in place to ensure that fathers are fully supported by your organisation throughout their partner’s pregnancy, paternity/adoption leave, Shared Parental Leave and return to work. Further guidance in respect of Flexible working can be found in the Flexible working guide.
Creating a family friendly workplace – cultural change
Creating a workplace culture that supports family friendly practices is not just a matter of getting the right policies in place. Cultural change is a complex process, and doesn’t happen overnight. However there are some simple steps you might want to look at to start the ball rolling:
Establishing the business case
It is often helpful to start by thinking about the business case that is specific to your particular organisation, as well as the broader advantages of creating a family friendly organisation such as improved retention, and ability to attract candidates from a broader talent pool when recruiting. Articulating a clear business need can be helpful as a foundation for communicating your approach, and influencing the key stakeholders who need to be on board to ensure success.
Developing a supportive Culture
Whilst many organisations may have put in place policies in respect of parents’ leave and flexible working, this is likely to have a relatively limited impact unless the culture of the organisation is supportive. Without this, employees taking leave may be poorly supported, be neglected whilst absent, or put under pressure to return before they are ready to do so. Those who wish to work flexibly are less likely to apply for the arrangements or leave that they need – they will either struggle on – with the resulting negative impact on their productivity and engagement – or they will look for opportunities to leave the organisation. Similarly, if their managers and colleagues are not supportive, more flexible working requests will be turned down (because the manager may assume that they can’t work, and make little genuine attempt to overcome potential issues) or the arrangement may work poorly, because the necessary trust and communication aren’t in place.
Culture change can be complex and take time to accomplish, but there are a number of important practical steps that you can take to help build a culture that supports rather than hinders a family friendly approach, and flexible working:
- Leadership – it is important that the leadership of your organisation is visibly supportive – most people look to those more senior than them for guidance on how they should behave in the workplace.
- Role models and case studies – a lack of role models can be a particular issue for men who wish to take extended time off for family reasons and/or work flexibly. To overcome the perception that family leave and flexibility are just for female employees, it is not enough for the senior people in an organisation to simply pay lip-service to supporting family friendly policies and flexibility – their support needs to be visible through their actions. This may be through senior male employees taking family leave or working flexibly themselves and making sure this is known throughout the organisation. Or it may be through their obvious support for other men (and women) who take time out or decide to work in a different way. You need to think about who your role models are, as this can influence employees’ understanding of who flexible working and family- friendly policies are available to. For example, it is useful to ensure that both men and women are seen as able to take leave and to work flexibly and those at both senior and junior levels in the organisation. When show-casing your case studies, it is important to ensure that you clearly communicate the benefits of the arrangement to the organisation as well as the individual.
- Champions – it may be helpful to have specific champions for families and flexible working in the organisation. This category may overlap with leadership and role models, but may also include a broader range of people. Their role is to assist communication and help ensure everyone in the organisation knows that the company welcomes and values family friendly provisions and flexibility, and is open to any employee who wishes to work in a different way. In some cases champions may be associated with an internal committee such as a Diversity and Inclusion committee, or may be linked to a network such as a Family and Carers Network.
Effective communication of your approach to family friendly policies and flexible working, is key to making your policies work. You should ensure that there is ongoing communication and awareness work so that all employees are aware of the options available, and of the commitment of your organisation to ensuring a family friendly approach and flexible working are part of your culture.
It is important to think about how these issues are perceived in your organisation, and whether this perception needs to be changed. For example, many organisations find that there is a perception amongst their employees that the option to take an extended period of leave to care for a child is limited to women with childcare responsibilities, and this can cause resentment across the wider workforce. Good communication can spread the message that family friendly policies are available to fathers as well as mothers.
Support during their partner’s pregnancy
Your employee’s partner will need to attend a number of antenatal appointments during her pregnancy, and the father is likely to want to accompany her to some or all of these appointments.
From 1 October 2014 fathers were given the legal right to take unpaid leave to accompany the expectantmother to two of her antenatal appointments, of up to 6 ½ hours each. You may wish to support fathers by having a more flexible approach:
- By allowing paid leave to attend antenatal appointments.
- By expanding the amount of leave available so that fathers can attend more than 2 of the appointments.
- In addition to providing paid or unpaid leave, you may be able to enable the employee to attend more appointments through simply allowing them to work more flexibly e.g. they might come in late after attending an appointment, or leave early in order to attend, making up the lost time on another day. If the appointments take place close to their home, allowing them to work from home on those days may help minimise the working time lost.
Employees should give you as much notice as possible of their appointments, but you should be prepared to be flexible, and bear in mind that they may have limited choice as to the timings.
Antenatal care includes not just medical consultations such as check-ups by a Doctor, midwife or consultant, ultrasound scans and other checks, but may also encompass complementary care such as parent-craft or relaxation classes. For example, most fathers choose to attend ante-natal classes with their partners, so they can be prepared to provide support during and after the birth.
Discussing the future and planning for absence
In addition to their right to 2 weeks of Ordinary Paternity leave, fathers may choose to take an additional period of paternity leave (for babies due before 5th April 2015) or Shared Parental Leave (for babies due on or after 5th April 2015), meaning that they could be absent from the office for up to 28 weeks on Ordinary and Additional Paternity leave, or 50 weeks for those entitled to Shared Parental Leave (in addition to Ordinary Paternity Leave).
It is therefore a good idea to have a discussion with an employee some time before his baby is due to ensure that he is aware of the options available, understand whether or not he intends to take an extended period of leave, and to ensure he is confident that you are supportive of his right to do so.
If the employee is taking an extended period of leave, it makes sense to have a follow-up conversation shortly before he starts the leave to ensure any issues are dealt with in a timely fashion. Good communication is vital for ensuring the process is managed smoothly, and can help you to plan for his absence.
Where an employee is adopting a baby, the adoptive parents will effectively nominate which partner will be the ‘Adopter’ entitled to adoption rights. For the sake of simplicity, these rights have been covered in the Mothers Factsheet as they mirror the provisions for Maternity Leave and pay. All references to she/her in the adoption leave sections of that guide should be taken to include adoptive fathers when they have opted to become the primary ‘Adopter’. The other partner (whether male or female), will be eligible for paternity leave and pay in the same way as fathers in the case of a birth, and all references in this guide to he/him should also be taken to apply to adoptive mothers where they have not opted to become the primary ‘Adopter’.
It is helpful to use the discussions to:
- Gain an understanding of when the employee is likely to take Ordinary paternity leave (the two weeks can be taken at any point within 56 days of the birth or adoption of the child).
- To explain the options in respect of sharing some leave with his partner as Shared Parental leave, where he is eligible to do so. Bear in mind that this is a new (and quite complex) scheme, and employees (and managers) may not be familiar with it.
- Establish whether he will take any Additional Paternity leave (if the baby is due before 5th April 2015) or Shared Parental leave (if the baby is due on or after 5th April 2015), and if so when this will be and how long it will last (including discontinuous leave under the Shared Parental Leave scheme).
- To ensure that the employee fully understands your paternity/adoption/SPL policies (e.g. amount of leave and pay, impact on benefits etc) and the notification requirements (see below).
- To make sure he is aware of the options for extending his time off following paternity/adoption/Shared Parental leave if he wishes to do so by taking some Parental leave and/or holiday, or any other scheme applicable in your company (such as a Career Break or sabbatical) or that may be useful at a later stage including Parental leave, holiday or Dependants’ Leave.
If the employee plans to be absent for an extended period of paternity or Shared Parental Leave:
- To discuss and agree preferred arrangements for contact and communication during the employee’s leave – for example does the employee want to receive regular updates on company developments, or just be informed about critical developments and those which will impact him personally, and relevant promotion opportunities/internal vacancies. It is important to ensure that you mutually agree a level of contact that the employee feels comfortable with (i.e. he won’t be bombarded with communications whilst he is trying to take time out of the workplace, but he won’t feel excluded and disengaged from the organisation). You should make sure that it is clear that if he does feel uncomfortable with the level of contact during his leave, he should let you know and you will adjust accordingly.
- If you normally carry out performance appraisals, particularly if these impact on pay rises and /or bonuses, it is a good idea to ensure that an appraisal is carried out shortly before the employee starts his extended leave, to ensure that the information is accurately captured while it is still fresh, and that the employee will be treated fairly.
- To have an initial, informal discussion about when the employee might plan to return to work after his leave. The employee is automatically entitled to return to work at the end of his leave, or he may give you 6 weeks’ notice (in the case of APL) to come back earlier than this . Any discussions at this stage are purely indicative and non-binding and this should be made clear to the employee (who may feel differently on this topic before and after his baby is born).
- To begin the discussion about options in respect of return to work such as the option to request a flexible working pattern (e.g. part-time or partly working from home).
Planning for absence:
You are likely to need to be flexible at this stage, but you might wish to start thinking about making plans for the employee’s absence, including both the time when the baby is due, and when the employee plans to take any extended absence.
- Bear in mind that babies rarely come on their due date, so you will need to be flexible and anticipate the likelihood that the employee may need to leave the workplace at very short notice in order to attend the birth. Make sure work is planned to be as flexible as possible, and if he is involved in urgent or time-critical projects around the likely time of the birth, make sure that another member of staff is briefed so that they can take over at short notice if need be.
- Think also about travelling arrangements in the weeks leading up to the due date – it makes sense to avoid asking the employee to travel extensively during this period, and in particular you should try to avoid any long-distance travel (particularly abroad) that could make it impossible for him to get back home/to the appropriate hospital, in good time to support his partner during the labour and birth.
- If the employee is intending to take an extended period of leave, you will need to consider scheduling work appropriately so that projects for which he is key don’t clash with the time when he plans to take leave.
- Bear in mind that you should be discussing these issues with your employee rather than making assumptions about what he can and cannot do. It is important to ensure you don’t inadvertently discriminate by excluding him from projects that might enhance him career prospects.
- How will you cover the employee’s work during his extended absence? Will you employ someone on a temporary basis to cover the paternity/shared parental leave period? This is likely to be the preferable option, but bear in mind the following:
- It should be made clear to the individual covering the role that they are doing so on an interim basis, and that the employee on paternity leave/shared parental leave will have the right to return to his role.
- The interim employee can only remain in the role should the father decide that they do not wish to return to work (i.e. you receive their resignation).
- Rather than employing a new individual on a temporary contract, you could consider an internal secondment arrangement – this may have the advantage of providing a development opportunity for an employee and /or giving you increased flexibility and continuity, and better opportunities for a good handover.
- If possible, it is beneficial to arrange for an overlap between the employee going on paternity leave/shared parental leave and the interim cover, so that a handover can take place.
- Similarly, a short overlap is beneficial when the employee returns from Paternity/Shared Parental leave, so that your interim cover can update him on developments during his absence.
Statutory Paternity leave:
Legally, employees are entitled to take Paternity leave as follows:
Ordinary Paternity leave (OPL)
Any father who meets the correct eligibility requirements and provides the correct notification, is entitled to take a period of one week, or two consecutive weeks of Ordinary Paternity Leave. The leave may start at any point from the date on which the child is born or placed for adoption, and must normally be completed within 56 days of the birth or adoption of his child, or the due date if the baby is early. The father can agree with his employer that he will start his leave on one of the following:
- the actual date of birth
- a fixed number of days after the birth
- a fixed date which falls no earlier than the second day in the expected week of childbirth
If the leave starts on the day on which the child is born, but the father has already been to work on that day, the leave will begin on the next day (i.e. if he leaves work part way through the day to attend the birth, that day will not count as part of his OPL).
Additional Paternity leave – for fathers of babies due before 5th April 2015 (see Shared parental leave for babies due on or after that date).
Additional paternity leave of between 2 and 26 weeks is available to fathers of babies which are due before 5 April 2015, provided that they meet the eligibility criteria and notify you in the correct manner. The appropriate forms are available at: https://www.gov.uk/employers-additional-paternity-pay-leave
Leave and/or pay can only start 20 weeks after the birth, adoption or child’s arrival in the UK (for overseas adoptions), once the mother/partner returns to work at the end of their maternity or adoption leave or pay period. Leave stops on the child’s first birthday or 52 weeks after the child starts living with the adopter.
Pay stops when the mother’s maternity or adoption pay would have ended.
Employees can change these dates if they give you 6 weeks’ notice.
You must confirm in writing within 28 days of their request:
- what Additional Statutory Paternity Pay they’ll get
- their leave start and end dates
If an employee doesn’t give you the right amount of notice, you can delay the start of leave and the pay period until you’ve had acceptable notice. However you may wish to consider whether this is worth doing bearing in mind the potential impact on the employee’s morale. Ensuring good communication during the period after the baby’s birth should hopefully avoid this situation arising.
You can ask for:
- proof of the birth or adoption – e.g. a birth certificate, letter from the adoption agency or ‘official notification’ (for overseas adoptions).
- the contact details of their partner’s employer – e.g. to check when their partner’s maternity pay ends.
They should give this to you within 28 days.
If an employee doesn’t qualify for Additional Statutory Paternity Pay, write to them within 28 days of their request and include form ASPP1 – non-payment of Additional Statutory Paternity Pay.
You must keep records for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – see https://www.gov.uk/employers-additional-paternity-pay-leave for details.
Shared Parental Leave – for fathers of babies due on or after 5th April 2015
For fathers of babies due on or after 5th April 2015, Additional Paternity Leave (APL) is abolished and replaced with shared parental leave.
Under this scheme, women are entitled to share some of their leave and pay with their partner, subject to meeting the eligibility conditions.
Adoptive parents effectively nominate which partner will be the ‘Adopter’ entitled to adoption rights.
If a father is acting as the primary Adopter of a child, he will be entitled to provisions for Ordinary Adoption leave and Additional Adoption leave which mirror those for Ordinary Maternity Leave.
The other partner (whether male or female), will be eligible for paternity leave and pay in the same way as fathers (as above).
The same rights apply to civil partners, and all references to he /him in this guide refer equally to female employees in such circumstances.
Paternity pay and Statutory Paternity Pay
The following guidance summarises the key points regarding Statutory Paternity Pay. Full details of the arrangements can be found on the government website at https://www.gov.uk/employers-paternity-pay-leave
Employees who meet the eligibility criteria and give you the correct notification are entitled to receive Statutory Paternity Pay for the 2 weeks of their Ordinary Paternity Leave. This is paid at the same rate as Lower Rate Statutory Maternity Pay, which is currently £138.18 (as at April 2014 – revised annually in April) or 90% of the employee’s gross “normal weekly earnings” – whichever is the lower. Tax and National Insurance are deducted in the usual way.
You can reclaim 92% of Statutory Paternity Pay from HMRC through the PAYE scheme (or 103% if your business qualifies for Small Employers’ Relief).
Details of how to do this can be found at – https://www.gov.uk/recover-statutory-payments
You will need to keep the correct records in this respect: https://www.gov.uk/employers-paternity-pay-leave/records
Statutory Adoption Pay
The provisions for statutory adoption pay mirror those for Statutory Paternity Pay (or Statutory Maternity Pay if the man is the primary Adopter), based on the date on which the child is due to be placed for adoption (as opposed to the EWC).
Shared Parental leave and pay
For fathers of babies due on or after 5th April 2015, the additional paternity leave and pay provisions will not apply, but they may instead be entitled to Shared parental leave and pay.
Enhancing paternity provisions
You may find it helpful to look at the guidance in the attached checklist to Checklist for policy, when reviewing your policy provisions and support mechanisms.
Enhancing Paternity Pay
Many employers choose to enhance Statutory Paternity Pay during Ordinary Paternity Leave, usually paying normal pay during this period. If this is not financially viable, you may wish to consider enhancing pay for the first week of Ordinary paternity leave.
Additionally, you may want to consider enhancing pay during Additional Paternity Leave. If you have done so for Additional Maternity Leave, it will probably be sensible to mirror these provisions in respect of pay during Additional Paternity Leave. Doing so will help demonstrate your support for the right of your male employees to take this leave, and will also provide you with strong protection against the risk of any accusation of discrimination.
Popular options offered by employers include:
- Offering full pay for an extended period.
- Or, depending on affordability, you might choose to top up to some other percentage, e.g. maintaining 90% of pay (if you have done so for your female employees), or using some other percentage.
There will of course be costs associated with any enhancements to pay (which will not be reimbursed by the HMRC) and you will need to weigh up the costs against potential business benefits such as improved retention of employees.
Bear in mind also that if you offer only the statutory level of pay, some employees may be forced to return to work much earlier than they are ready to do so, for purely financial reasons. The conflict caused by this can create a number of problems that may impact negatively upon productivity – the employee may not be sufficiently fit and rested to work effectively, or may lack concentration due to severely broken sleep, or by the desire to be at home with his baby.
Enhancing paternity Leave
You may wish to consider enhancing the amount of paternity leave available to mirror the provisions for your female employees, or offering an additional form of leave such as a career break or sabbatical, to follow the paternity leave period. Whilst it is up to you to decide exactly how the scheme will work, you will need to consider:
- Will any benefits continue during the period of additional leave?
- Will there be any kind of pay during the additional period?
- What will you offer in terms of return to work after the additional period? This is a critical feature of the scheme so you will need to consider putting in place a guarantee of return to work similar to that for maternity returners whereby the employee is normally guaranteed to return to his role unless a redundancy situation has arisen. You will need to consider carefully how you cover the position in the interim period e.g. using a temporary contract or a secondment from another part of the business for a defined period, and ensure that this arrangement is clear to the individual covering the role.
Removing Qualifying periods – where employees do not qualify for statutory leave you may wish to allow leave to be taken under your own paternity policy. If they do not qualify for statutory pay you may also wish to consider topping up their pay during paternity leave– perhaps to the same level that you pay for employees who do qualify for SPP. You will not be able to reclaim this top-up from HMRC, as it is not a statutory entitlement.
Shared Parental leave may be available to fathers of babies due on or after 5th April 2015.
Rights during Paternity leave
Normally, all employment terms and conditions, and any benefits you usually provide, are protected during Paternity leave and employees are entitled to any pay rises and improvements in terms and conditions given during the leave.
Pension contributions usually stop during any unpaid period of paternity leave (or any other unpaid leave) is unless the contract of employment specifies otherwise. Employees continue to build up holiday entitlement throughout the leave, and can take any holiday they’ve accrued before or after the leave.
Support for fathers during and after extended periods of Additional paternity leave or Shared Parental Leave (SPL)
- It is important to ensure good communication during the paternity leave/SPL period to ensure that the employee remains connected to and engaged with the organisation. You should always aim to discuss and agree the arrangements with the employee prior to his leave. For example does the employee want to receive regular updates on company developments, or just be informed about critical developments and those which will impact him personally, and relevant promotion opportunities/internal vacancies?
- You should make sure that it is clear that if he does feel uncomfortable with the level of contact during his leave, he should let you know and you will adjust accordingly.
- Working during Additional Paternity leave: under normal circumstances, if a man returns to work during Additional Paternity leave, this will mean automatically trigger the end of the leave. The exceptions to this are keeping in touch days – these days are intended to provide a way for an employee to return to work for a short period or periods during their paternity leave, without triggering the end of the leave, or losing any statutory paternity pay. Currently fathers on paternity leave are entitled to ten Keeping in Touch (KIT) days during their paid paternity leave. These days can be used for any purpose necessary (for example if there is an urgent need for the particular skills or knowledge of that individual) and can be particularly useful in allowing the employee to keep up to date by participating in relevant key activities. KIT days are voluntary and must be discussed and agreed with the employee. It is a good idea to discuss the options for KIT days before the employee starts his Additional Paternity leave if this is possible. In either case it is important to ensure the employee is given as much notice as possible as it is likely that he will not have any childcare arrangements in place. Additional KIT days apply if the employee is taking Shared Parental Leave – these are known as SPLIT days.
- If the employee is sharing leave with their partner as Shared Parental Leave this may be taken discontinuously e.g. the mother and father may take alternate periods of leave, each returning to work in between.
- Involvement in specific relevant events – it is a good idea to ensure the employee is kept up to date with developments during his absence (perhaps using his Keeping in Touch days). This could include a wide range of different events and activities such as briefings or training on relevant developments (in his field of expertise, technology, relevant legal developments, significant changes to the business etc), introduction to new clients, involvement in the planning of new projects which he is likely to be involved in following his return, or the completion of projects he was closely involved in before his absence.
- Pre-return training and mentoring: if an employee is absent for an extended period, there will often be significant developments during his absence, and it is important to plan effectively as to how he will be updated on anything he has missed during his absence. You may wish to consider specific training or briefing events if appropriate, or to designate another colleague to act as a ‘buddy’ to facilitate return. External companies also offer specific services on training paternity returners, and this may be a good option, particularly if you do not have appropriate internal resources.
- Discussion of return to work arrangements: as part of the request/notification process for taking APL, the employee will have given you a date for his planned return to work. If he wishes to change this date he will need to give you 6 weeks’ notice. You may also wish to have a discussion on this topic, provided that it is handled sensitively, and there is no implication that you are either pressuring the employee to return early, or making any suggestion that he might not want to return at all.
Returning to work:
When fathers have taken just a short period of one or two weeks’ paternity leave, it can be easy for their colleagues and managers to forget that their lives have just undergone a major change, and that fathers still need a level of support and flexibility upon their return, even if they haven’t been absent for an extended time. You should bear in mind that looking after a new baby can be an exhausting process, both physically and emotionally. Both parents are likely to be sleep-deprived, and this can take a huge toll. When fathers return to work after just a couple of weeks (or even if they do so later as a result of taking parental leave or holiday), they are likely to be suffering from the impact of this, and will also need to provide a high level of support to their partners, on both a practical and an emotional level.
It’s a good idea to ensure that you have a candid conversation with fathers returning to work, and establish some ways in which their work can be managed effectively during this period. Options might include:
- Allowing the employee to leave earlier in the afternoon/evening than normal, or come in later.
- Avoiding booking late or early meetings to facilitate this.
- If the employee has not already discussed flexible working with you, make sure he is aware of the options available, and discuss whether there are any options might be helpful, on a long or short term basis. If his partner is currently on Maternity leave, the father may wish to consider the options for working flexibly after her return to work, and it is sensible to plan ahead for this as the formal process for a flexible working request may take up to 3 months to complete.
- Ensuring the father is available of any support your organisation offers for working parents (e.g. a family network, an employee assistance programme, childcare assistance) including further leave he may be entitled to (Shared Parental Leave, parental leave, Time off for Dependants).
For those fathers who have taken a period of extended paternity leave or SPL, returning to work after the leave can also be a challenging time. Good forward planning and communication before and during the leave should minimise any issues, but there are also a number of different things you can do to ease the transition:
- Ensure that the employee is aware of the opportunity to work flexibly, and discuss options well in advance of their return date. See Flexible working factsheet. It is a good idea to begin the formal flexible working request process more than 3 months before the return date if this is possible, and aim to complete the process several weeks before the employee is due to return, since this will give you plenty of time to complete the process properly, and give the employee a chance to put in place appropriate care arrangements.
- Phased return – whether employees are planning to return to work on a full time or part time basis, it can be helpful to put in place some kind of phasing arrangement for the first few weeks or months following their return. For example, if an employee plans to return to work full time, he might want to start by working 2 days a week for the first month, then 4 days for the next month, then returning to full time work.
- Support with childcare. Finding appropriate childcare can be a significant issue for many parents returning to work, and there are a number of ways in which you might provide support. Some options might include:
- Providing crèche facilities – on-site or close to your site. If you do have a crèche, make sure that you flag this to the employee at an early stage so he can make the appropriate arrangements (such as visiting the crèche to ensure he is happy with it, establish if there is a waiting list, organise a settling in period etc).
- Emergency childcare provision – some employers support their employees through the provision of childcare to be used in emergency situations such as the illness of a childminder or nanny. The costs of providing such a service are often offset by the benefits of minimising disruption to the business through unexpected absence of an employee. Depending on the needs of your employees (for example whether most live close to the office, or whether they are based across a wide geographical area), there are a variety of options you may wish to consider, such as agreeing emergency places at a nursery close to your office location(s) or with a chain of nurseries that can provide a reasonable match to your employees’ homes, or putting in place an arrangement with specialist providers of emergency nanny services.
- Information and guidance on types and providers of childcare could be provided via a specialist provider. This is sometimes available as an addition to an Employee Assistance Programme, or may be a stand-alone service.
Other support following return to work (Workshops/mentoring/coaching/networks)
Many organisations find it helpful to provide employees with some kind of additional support upon their return to work after a period of leave, especially if they have been absent for a prolonged period. This can be helpful in terms of:
- Ensuring the employee is up to date with developments during their absence.
- Providing any training needed if there have been changes e.g. technology, legal changes that impact their area of expertise, adjustments to internal processes and procedures.
- Providing a level of practical support in dealing with the issues of balancing work and family life which may be very new to the employee (particularly if this is their first child).
- Providing a degree of emotional support to help the employee through an often unsettling period when they may have conflicting emotions about leaving their child.
There are a number of ways in which you may wish to provide support to your employee, which might include:
- Develop a specific new and/or expectant fathers programme or tailored workshops (using an external supplier / facilitator if appropriate) to help the employee get up to date and work through some of the issues.
- Giving the employee an internal or external coach or mentor to provide practical and emotional support on a one-to-one basis.
- Ensure that the employee has an opportunity to discuss and agree his performance objectives following his return, and that these are carefully considered and adjusted appropriately if he is working part-time.
- Setting up a voluntary ‘buddy’ network where employees who have previously been on extended paternity leave are matched with those about to go on leave and/or about to return from leave, to provide informal and confidential support and practical advice, keep the employee up to date whilst they are away (if they want this), and act as a sounding board on any issues of concern.
- In larger organisations, an internal network such as a Family, Parents’ or Carers’ network if you have one, can often provide a useful source of support for working parents, and can play a significant role in supporting new and expectant fathers in the transition to parenthood. . This can be particularly useful for fathers who often lack visible role models within an organisation, since historically a much smaller proportion of men have taken substantial time out and/or worked flexibly for family reasons. Networks may become involved in organising a wide range of activities, and key contributions might include:
- Providing a clear and visible demonstration of the organisation’s support for employees who have external responsibilities.
- Providing a source of mentors and/or buddies who can provide informal one-to-one support for employees who are returning to work after caring for a baby, and ongoing support for working parents.
- Providing visible role models for working parents and carers – something that may be particularly important for fathers, as they are still likely to form a much smaller percentage of the workforce than working mothers in most companies.
- Workshops and talks on a wide range of key subjects relating to parenting and wider work-life balance issues (childcare issues, choosing schools, communicating with teenagers etc). This may be done using expert external speakers, or internal speakers if they have sufficient expertise.
- Providing information on issues of interest through asking a working group of parents/carers to put together an information pack on a specific topic based on their own experience e.g. choosing types of childcare, successful home-working etc. Such information might be shared via an intranet site and/or disseminated amongst network members.
- Facilitated discussion and sharing groups –for example a lunch-time discussion group hosted by a senior member of staff who is also a parent may give a valuable opportunity for employees to share concerns about the challenges they face as working parents, and share strategies for overcoming any issues. Sessions could be open to all employees, and/or you may find it useful to organise smaller groups with common issues e.g. fathers only groups.
- Providing focus groups and/or a sounding board for internal initiatives and policy development on relevant topics e.g. planned changes to your family friendly policies or setting up a crèche facility.
- Additionally, the group could provide a valuable source of expertise and support on a wider range of topics. For example if you were looking at an initiative to recruit women who had been out of the workforce for a period, or developing a product aimed at families, members of your network and/or its steering committee might have useful input to give.
Additional time off for parents
Employees who have responsibility for the care of a child are entitled to unpaid parental leave (not to be confused with Shared Parental Leave which is a completely different scheme). The legal entitlement is for:
- Employees with one year’s qualifying service.
- Unpaid leave.
- For any purpose connected with the care of the child.
- Total of 18 weeks of leave per child, with a maximum of 4 to be taken in any one year.
- To be taken in blocks of one week or multiples of one week.
- To be taken before the child’s 5th birthday or the 5th anniversary of the adoption of a child. (this will change to the child’s 18th birthday in 2015).
- 21 days notice of the intention to take leave must be given.
Employers are entitled to postpone (not refuse outright) a period of parental leave for a maximum of 6 months (unless it is being taken immediately after the birth or adoption of a child), but this should only be done if the absence would unduly disrupt their business (as opposed to merely being inconvenient), for example if the absence coincides with a seasonal peak, or where numerous employees working in the same area apply to take parental leave at the same time.
In the case of a disabled child, the provisions are slightly different:
- Available up to the date of the child’s 18th birthday
- Overall amount of leave is increased to 18 weeks
- May be taken in blocks of less than one week.
However it is of course open to you as an employer to make any enhancements to the scheme that you can. Some options might be:
- To make some of the leave paid – e.g. one week per year.
- To widen the eligibility scope to include employees with children aged up to 18, and those with less than one year’s service.
- To increase the total amount of leave available.
- To allow more flexibility in the way in which the leave is taken e.g. to allow all the leave to be taken in one year, or for it to be taken in blocks of less than a week.
Time off for dependants
All parents (as well as those with other dependants) are entitled to take ‘reasonable’ time off work in order to take whatever action is necessary in respect of situations such as:
- Illness (including mental illness), injury or assault of a dependant.
- To make longer term arrangements for a dependant who is ill (including mental illness) or injured.
- When a dependant gives birth.
- The death of a dependant.
- An unexpected incident involving a child at school or other educational establishment.
- Unexpected disruption to or breakdown in care arrangements for a dependant.
These provisions are intended to deal with unusual disruptions rather than day-to-day care, but the need for time off does not have to be a sudden and unexpected emergency. For example if an employee is given notice that his childminder will not be available on a particular day, he is entitled to take the leave if he cannot make other arrangements for childcare.
As a matter of best practice, you may wish to expand on the provisions available, firstly by taking a generous approach to the amount of leave you allow, and secondly, if possible, by paying for some or all of the leave taken. Some of these circumstances (e.g. death of a dependent) might also be covered by other existing policies in your organisation e.g. compassionate leave or bereavement leave.
Time off for Family occasions
You may wish to think about putting in place a formal policy (or informal guidelines) to allow employees to take time off for key family occasions. Such provisions can be a valuable asset in building engagement in your employees, and send a clear message that you respect their responsibilities outside of work.
Examples might include:
- Their child’s/children’s birthdays.
- First day at school (and perhaps some extra time off or flexible working options for the few weeks after – settling in periods at many schools can be quite demanding for parents (there may be 2 – 4 weeks when children are at school for a couple of hours or half a day).
- School events such as end-of-year show, nativity play or sports days.
- Leaving early for parent’s evenings and other school-related events.
It is important to ensure that taking time away from work for family reasons, and/or working flexibly, does not have a negative impact upon an employee’s career progression. A recent study of working fathers found that although most believed that working flexibly had not impeded their careers, ‘there was a widespread belief … that to ‘get on’ would mean potentially having to give up working in a family friendly way’. There are a number of activities you can consider to minimise any problems:
- Communicating your support for family friendly working for fathers as well as mothers (and other carers).
- Ensuring good communication about career development opportunities (internal vacancies and promotions) before, during and after Additional Paternity/adoption or Shared Parental leave.
- Ensuring everyone in your organisation who is involved in recruitment, talent management and development activities, is aware of the importance of ensuring that parents and flexible workers are not inadvertently excluded. This could include providing training or coaching and/or reviewing any internal guidelines you may have.
- Tracking internal promotions and recruitment to identify and rectify any possible bias (whether conscious or unconscious)
- Monitoring performance appraisal scores and checking for any possibility of bias
- Providing career development support and other relevant support e.g. through a family network.
- Training for Managers in managing paternity/adoption/shared parental leave.
- Training for managers in managing flexible workers effectively, especially in terms of maintaining good communication and assessing performance effectively.
Food for Thought: The Gender Business Case, Opportunity Now
Women and Work: The Facts, Opportunity Now
JACOBS, S. (2011) The Economics of Balance: A look at the Business Case for Flexible Working. London: Working Families.
Lancaster University Management School and Working Families (2011) Working and Fathers: Combining family life and work London: Working Families
Working Families (2004, updated 2012) Daddy’s Home! A Life Planner for Fathers London: Working Families
Making good connections: Best Practice for Women’s Corporate Networks, Professor Susan Vinnicombe, Dr Val Singh and Dr Savita Kumra, Opportunity Now and Cranfield University.
 According to statistics from the National Equality Panel report in 2010, 44% of women now earn as much, or more than their partners. Quoted in Working Families’ Daddy’s Home! A Life Planner for Fathers (2004, updated 2012).
 Recruitment, Retention and Turnover, Chartered Institute for Professional Development, quoted in Food for Thought: The Gender Business Case, Opportunity Now
 Lancaster University Management School and Working Families (2011) Working and Fathers: Combining family life and work London: Working Families
 In this context a father is defined as either: the baby’s father, or the expectant mother’s spouse or civil partner, or in a long term relationship with the expectant mother.
 Again, to qualify for the legal right to paid time off, such care should be recommended by the doctor or midwife, but you can of course chose to take a more relaxed attitude.
 To delay leave if you have not been given the correct notification, you need to write to the employee within 28 days.
 An analysis of the impact of presenteeism (being physically present at work but not fully productive) can be found in Working Families’ study (2011) The Economics of Balance: A look at the Business Case for Flexible Working. This identifies conflict between home and work as a key issue causing stress as and decreasing productivity ‘Where responsibilities and priorities outside of the workplace occupy employee’s minds, then work is the looser. If you are worried about your children, your elderly parents, missing sports day or concerned about leaving work on time to pick up from school your conscious mind will simply not be focused on work. Reduced productivity at work (presenteeism) costs UK employers£15.1bn per year, almost twice as much as sickness absenteeism’.
 Dependants include a spouse, parent, or child, or someone who lives in the household as part of the family, or anyone who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance to make care arrangements if they are ill, injured or assaulted.
 Lancaster University Management School and Working Families (2011) Working and Fathers: Combining family life and work London: Working Families