Oscillating parental time off will be a logistics nightmare

Phil McCabe
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Under new regulations, mothers of babies born on or after 3 April 2011 will be able to transfer up to six months of their maternity leave to the child's father when they return to work.

However, according to a survey from the charity Working Families, 40% of employers have yet to prepare for the change in legislation. This is worrying news, given the additional red tape that the legislation is likely to bring – particularly for small printing firms, which are traditionally male dominated.

Raising questions about the wisdom of such parental leave changes while the country is facing a double-dip recession risks drawing criticisms of undermining employees and their families, but that is way off the mark.

Small businesses know their success depends utterly on having a happy, motivated workforce. They are not anti-family or opposed to the principle of employees being given time to spend with newborn children; they are just concerned that yet more practical problems are being heaped upon them.

Nor is the Forum of Private Business (FPB) opposed to the principle of parental leave being shared equally between the mother and the father.

But we are concerned by the idea that business owners should be the ones who have to deal with the administrative burden, such as continually liaising with the other parent’s employer to prevent abuse of the system.

Parents being able to continuously switch leave back and forth, on an ad hoc basis with little or no notice being provided to the employer, is likely to be an administrative nightmare.

Surely, small businesses charged with driving economic recovery and creating employment should be offered better support to help them adapt to these changes, and to prevent a law designed to benefit workers instead becoming a barrier to job creation.

The FPB believes that, in parallel to introducing family-friendly policies, the government should assist with the leg work required to implement them, perhaps by creating an agency – or empowering an existing one – to deal with the associated administration and help put in place contingency plans.

Existing maternity laws provide leave for fixed periods, and recruiting a replacement for 12 months or so is often a viable option. However, with recent legislation giving the same benefits to temporary workers as permanent staff and undermining the attractiveness of the flexible labour market, recruiting stand-in employees at short notice for just weeks or months at a time will be incredibly difficult and costly, especially for skilled roles.

It will also be impractical, as agency workers often take a while to bed in to their roles and are unlikely to be able to fill in for the absent parent during a period of just a few weeks.  

Flexible working can work for all parties, but entrepreneurs should not be compelled to provide it if it would be disastrous for their businesses.

In the present economic climate, the government should be making it easier for people to gain employment, not placing ever more obstacles in the way of job creation.

Read PrintWeek's Briefing on this subject here

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