Are the new paternity leave proposals a good idea?
New rules on paternity leave, due to come into effect next year, will give new fathers the option to take up to six months leave from work (three of which are paid) in the second half of their child's first year.
Sue Evans, an expert on paternity and maternity leave and partner at Lester Aldridge LLP, thinks the proposed changes could be unsettling to businesses during a difficult economic period. However, Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights at the TUC, disagrees.
Yes says: Sarah Veale, TUC Head of Equality and Employment Rights
Today's parents want to share work and family care more equally so government proposals to allow mums and dads to share six months each of maternity and paternity leave makes a lot of sense.
Recent surveys suggest that many dads think they don't spend nearly enough time with their children and spend too much time at work, so any way of allowing fathers to play a greater role in their children's lives can only be a good thing.
Being able to share six months of leave gives families more choice. It allows them to opt for childcare, which suits them rather than having to make choices based on outdated divisions of paid work and care that don't reflect modern workplaces or 21st century families.
There is also a growing consensus for action to make our lives at work fit better with the priorities of families. Change is on the way so employers and companies that take a lead on better leave arrangements for fathers early on will have a clear advantage.
Companies that offer decent family-friendly measures tend to find it easier to recruit staff and then hold on to them once they're in post.
And the proposed changes won't just work for families. Allowing fathers more time off as paternity leave is also likely to mean more business benefits too.
Research has shown that fathers who are able to take paternity leave are more creative and less stressed at work, and these men are likely to be more productive employees for their organisations.
Employers can also recover their statutory paternity pay payments from HM Revenue & Customs, so they won't find themselves out of pocket.
• Go to tuc.org.uk/extras/familyfriendlyguide.pdf for a guide to family friendly rights.
No says: Sue Evans, partner at Lester Aldridge LLP
While the new regulations, which allow mothers to split some of their maternity leave with their partners, may be valuable in assisting new parents, they will also be an additional burden for employers who are already under increasing economic pressure and having to deal with a raft of new regulations.
It may also mean further costs to employers in order to update and implement new policies.
It is imperative that companies and other organisations take steps now to plan for the coming changes.
In terms of administration and practice, there is likely to be some complication and uncertainty for employers when the regulations come in to force.
Employers will need to get to grips with the eligibility criteria, which will be similar to those for the current statutory paternity entitlement but with the additional complication that the mother (who may well work for a different employer) must have returned to work before the end of her maternity leave entitlement.
The new regulations will apply to children due on (or after) 3 April 2011; employers should use the time until then to plan in order to accommodate them and update their policies.
Employers will need to make sure they formulate a policy for paternity leave and communicate with staff so that they are aware of what is on offer and of the notification and qualification requirements.
Upfront and timely discussions about this should help employers to plan for maternity and paternity absences more effectively and put suitable arrangements in place.
Employers may well need to be prepared to be increasingly flexible in managing leave and covering absences should fathers wish to take advantage of the new regulations.