Managing Family Friendly Policies
- Employment Law
- 31st Jan 2023
Gareth Matthews, Head of Employment, analyses how best to manage family friendly policies in the workplace, against a backdrop of cultural and social shifts in the working landscape. First, a few pertinent statistics: Shared Parental Leave currently has a take up of only around 3-4% of eligible parents, despite a government target of […]
By Gareth MatthewsMLP Law
Gareth Matthews, Head of Employment, analyses how best to manage family friendly policies in the workplace, against a backdrop of cultural and social shifts in the working landscape.
First, a few pertinent statistics:
- Shared Parental Leave currently has a take up of only around 3-4% of eligible parents, despite a government target of a 25% uptake. The Department for Business is evaluating its effectiveness but it seems likely that the process will be reformed in some way, to encourage parents to share in the care of a child.
- Only a third (32 per cent) of eligible fathers took paternity leave in the last year – with some suggesting this is largely due to affordability, especially in light of the cost of living crisis.
- In April to June 2021, three in four mothers with dependent children (75.6%) were in work in the UK, reaching its highest level in the equivalent quarter over the last 20 years.
- Finally, the number of part-time workers in the UK has increased from 6 million in May 1992 to 8.7 million in June 2019. This increase equated to a 45 percent growth in part-time workers compared with an increase of just 22.8 percent in full-time workers during the same period. From March 2020 onwards, however, the number of part-time workers in the UK has fallen significantly, while the number of full-time workers continued to grow – in large part presumably because the increased use of wfh has removed some of the barriers to working full time for employees with family responsibilities.
Clearly, therefore, there have been fairly significant shifts in the way we work and in who comprises the UK workforce, all of which require employers to be nimble and adapt to those societal changes.
Responding to Requests
There are various types of family friendly leave, which employers may be required to consider and respond to.
Types of Leave:
- maternity leave
- adoption leave
- paternity leave
- shared parental leave
- time off for dependants
- parental bereavement leave
- time off work for antenatal care or adoption appointments (certain employees will be entitled to take unpaid time off from work to accompany a pregnant woman or prospective adopter to such an appointment).
As you all know, there are protections against any detriment or dismissal that the employee can show was due to the exercise of these rights. This makes following a sound procedure even more important, as it reduces the risk of a legal challenge by the employee when taking such leave, if their perception is that they were supported and encouraged by the employer during the process.
In this vein, small steps can make a big difference, right down to congratulating an employee on any news of a growing family! I have had clients who have been met with lukewarm or negative responses by managers after revealing their happy news, which has coloured their view of their employer and tainted the working relationship permanently.
Indeed, the very nature of such leave means that it is often a moment in an employee’s life where their personal circumstances and their work life collide. It may mean that an employee is having to reveal intensely emotional details to you and, it goes without saying, that the response of the employer or manager is therefore vitally important.
Various factors to consider when responding in the first instance:
- Upon revealing the initial information, the employee should be dealt with in a sensitive manner – the manager must not ask intrusive questions (I thought you and your husband had split up or I didn’t know you were having problems having a baby and had to adopt) but should instead simply note down the information that has been given and promise to follow up.
- The request often reflects a seismic change in the employee’s life and, again, a manager should avoid overloading the employee with demands for information at an early stage – relevant information can be sought, in writing, as the process of managing the leave unfolds.
- Managers should also avoid any questions about coming back to work, becoming part time etc.
In essence, the key requirements for an employer in responding to a request under any family friendly policy are:
- Be clear with what is required of the employee going forward, especially in terms of notice periods or documentation which will be required.
- Clarify the process ahead.
- Ensure confidentiality of information and any data, especially medical information.
- Be sensitive.
There can be quite a lot of paperwork required for both the employee and the employer. You should therefore have a clear picture of the relevant documents from the outset – for instance a MATB1 form in the case of maternity leave. These should be set out in a policy or similar document, to ensure transparency and as a guide for the employee (and, indeed, managers).
You should also ensure that you do not require documentation above and beyond that which is necessary under the law, so, for instance, you cannot demand proof of an adoption placement before you allow an employee to take adoption leave but you can require proof of the adoption before you can process adoption pay for the employee.
You should keep minutes of any meetings that you hold with the employee (and make those minutes available to the employee).
Don’t forget that records relating to such requests could end up being sought by the employee and should therefore be kept entirely professional.
You should also keep records of any social events that the employee was included in during leave or to demonstrate that they have been kept up to date with relevant work communications and announcements.
Implementing relevant policies
Policies can give a flavour of the approach by the employer, regarding both the detail of the leave sought and the ethos of the employer’s culture.
Relevant policies should cover:
- The eligibility requirements for the type of leave (for instance length of service).
- The amount of leave that can be taken and when.
- The pay that an employee can expect when taking such leave, both in terms of statutory pay and any enhanced pay offered by the organisation.
- What will happen to other benefits, for instance holidays and pension.
- Additional factors, like keeping in touch days and the approach to inclusion in training events etc.
- What the employee can expect in terms of returning to the same or a similar role (usually dependent on the amount of leave sought).
Handling Related Meetings
- Ensure that meetings stay on point – for instance, a meeting to discuss how an employee would like his or her shared parental leave to work in terms of weeks to be worked, should not be allowed to morph into a flexible working request meeting. The best way to do this is to …
- Invite the employee to any meeting to discuss an aspect of their leave in writing; this ensures that both parties are on the same page and the meeting will be effective in achieving its aim.
- The same goes for follow up after the meeting – it is also useful to do this in writing, especially if the employee is required to undertake any action – for instance confirm the date when he or she would like their leave to start. This obviously helps to avoid deadlines being missed or any suggestion that you, as employer, were not facilitating the employee’s right to take the leave in question.
- Ensure that the employee knows of any avenue of recourse if they wish to query a decision that has been made as part of the process or assist with instigating any other related procedure, for instance, a flexible working request.
- Any meetings or keeping in touch days that occur during the leave should be flexible to accommodate childcare, remember the employee is on leave!
The majority of types of family friendly leave, other than time off for dependents, are paid, subject to certain conditions being met.
The key point to note is that statutory maternity, paternity, shared parental leave and adoption pay are all currently paid at the rate of £156.66 per week.
Any enhancements that are offered to the rate of pay should be clearly indicated and expressed in the contract of employment or related policy documents. It can be quite common to tie any more generous payments to a commitment from the employee to return to the workplace for a certain period of time or face having to repay either all or a percentage of the enhanced amount.
Where the leave being taken is unpaid, it can often be conducive to good employee relations to allow the employee to use a period of annual leave to cover the time required, before an employee is faced with a reduction in their monthly pay after taking such leave.
Employers are increasingly realising that to attract the best and most diverse talent to their organisations, flexible and family-friendly policies can be an effective tool. The key is to work with the employee and ensure good communication throughout, but especially before the leave commences.
About the expert
Stephen is the Owner of MLP Law and leads our Commercial, IP and Dispute Resolution teams which provide advice on all aspects of the law relating to mergers, acquisitions, financing, re-structuring, complex commercial contracts, standard trading terms, share options, shareholder and partnership agreements, commercial dispute resolution, joint venture and partnering arrangements, IT and Technology law, Intellectual Property, EU and competition law, Brexit and GDPR.
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