Bringing up baby

Fathers are expressing a wish to spend more time with their children but many are concerned that society attaches a stigma to dads who work part-time or even take the minimum parental leave.

In November Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced a new system of flexible parental leave which will come into effect in 2015.

There are two main proposals;

• parents will be able to share a period of parental leave up to 50 weeks after the birth of their child

• fathers will have a legal right to time off to attend limited ante-natal appointments.

Whilst this news may be welcomed by the 57%* of fathers who want to reduce their hours to spend more time with their children, over a quarter of new dads (27%) recently surveyed by Office Angels did not even take the two weeks paternity leave they are currently entitled to.

Fear of disapproval

Angela Smith, Operations Director said:

“Dads are not taking advantage of their paternity leave entitlement, which could be for a number of reasons. They may feel that their workload is too heavy, or their colleagues will disapprove, or they might simply not know about their legal rights to request time off.”

The survey spoke to men who have opted to work part-time on a permanent basis (or would like to) but their concerns are just as relevant to attitudes towards the new legislation which affects the first 12 months of a child’s life.

1,072 working fathers were surveyed and 70% expressed concerns that society attaches a stigma to the part-time working dad.

Over half (54%) worried that they were seen as the ‘weaker partner’ for sacrificing their role as the main breadwinner and 13% worried about negative perceptions amongst colleagues.

New flexible leave proposals

Under the proposed new system the existing first two week recovery period of compulsory maternity leave and two week period of ordinary paternity leave will remain in place.

After that parents will be able to share the statutory pay that is available for up to 37 weeks of the leave and the employer will still be able to recover statutory payments against national insurance contributions.

Parents will be permitted to take the leave consecutively or, both concurrently up to the maximum amount that is available.

Nick Clegg explained: “The only rule is that no more than 12 months can be taken in total; with no more than 9 months at guaranteed pay. And, of course, couples will need to be open with their employers, giving them proper notice.”

The organisational problems of the new system have not been acknowledged by the government, which is optimistic that a “light touch administrative approach” will work.

Each respective employer will have to check that their employee meets the qualifying criteria for flexible leave and pay. However, they will not be required to contact the other parent, which raises the possibility of fraudulent claims being made in respect of both the entitlement to statutory leave and pay.

Work/life balance

There is undoubtedly an appetite among men to share household responsibilities, spend more time with their children and achieve a better work/life balance.

As they can overcome the ‘social stigma’ and accept the financial implications of working fewer hours, it is anticipated that more fathers will take advantage of their additional parental leave or ask to work part-time in the future.

One father who is happier about his family relationships since he made a permanent change to his working week is Ben D’Alton who works in a technical support role in Preston. He says:

“I originally chose to go part-time so my wife and I could improve our work/life balance and spend more time together. I now work 26 hours each week – three and a half days. I am the only staff member who works part-time in my company.

“Now I feel I have the perfect work/life balance. I never wanted to be a weekend dad, and working part-time I get to spend time with my wife and children. We have had to cut our living costs certainly, but I see my children growing up and changing every day.”

For information and advice on family friendly rights, including their application to both agency workers and internal staff, contact Lawspeed on 01273 236 236.

To read what wider implications Lawspeed think the new legislation may have click here to read Adrian Marlowe’s comments.

*Source: “Rise of the part-time dads” report conducted by Office Angels.