The paternity changes: a good or a bad thing?

GB weighs up the pros and cons of the government's controversial amendments

The changes will allow new parents to share their leave allowance, once their baby has reached six weeks –  so fathers can utilise any leave their partner doesn’t use, and women can return to work knowing their baby is in safe hands.

The system is undoubtedly more convenient for parents. But is it a good idea from a business owner’s perspective? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons.

The good bits

Under the new laws, women in business could return to work much earlier than before, leaving the baby in the capable hands of their partner.

This would obviously reduce the amount of time and money pregnancy costs to employers, and could reduce the number of dismissals attributable to pregnancy. One prominent discrimination website claims 30,000 women are sacked or forced to leave their job every year because of pregnancy, and this number would surely fall if bosses knew their pregnant employee’s return was months, not years away.

Furthermore, a more flexible approach to paternity leave could fit well with the general approach taken by Britain’s small businesses. Research from the University of Westminster claims small firms already have a more flexible attitude than big firms or public bodies, so the coalition’s new-age attitude may be just what they need.

CMI chief executive Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, recently said that flexible working practices, particularly regarding paternity leave “have a significant impact on employee motivation, engagement, productivity and overall performance.

“They also help individuals to balance the pressures of both their work and personal lives.”

The bad bits

But there are also many concerns about the impact the new laws will have.

Prominent among them is cost. If the new laws go ahead, a new father will be entitled to three months’ leave at full pay before his unpaid time off begins. At the present rate of maternity pay, around £125 a week, this could leave employers with a total bill of £1500 if a staff member takes his full paternity entitlement.

Furthermore, the new law could create planning nightmares for business owners.

If a couple changes their plans during or after the birth, and the father takes a far longer period of absence than originally planned, their employer will have a sudden gap in their workforce. Alternatively, the couple may decide to rotate their leave in ‘on-off’ blocks of two or three weeks – an obvious headache for any boss. Or they could even take their leave simultaneously – if they both work for the same company, there’ll be two positions to fill, not just one.

The proposed changes also create dozens of financial complications, and loopholes for unscrupulous couples to jump through. Mike Bull, customer sage manager at Sage UK, told us:

“As the legislation stands, employers must work out the entitlement and calculation of Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption pay, which is already a very complicated procedure. Add to this the introduction of ASPP and this again increases the employer’s workload, as they now have to calculate leave entitlement and associated pay.

“In addition, employers should be extremely vigilant as the new legislation provided thus far could be subject to error or abuse from the submission of fraudulent claims. The new legislation states that a claimant needs only to produce a self certificate or declaration to their employer requesting up to 26 weeks additional paternity pay and leave – this clearly leaves scope for abuse.”

Earlier this week, TouchLocal published a survey showing that 57% of small business owners are against the paternity changes, so there is still a large core of support for the amendments. Time will tell which way opinion swings.

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