New parents will be able to share the current 52 week entitlement to parental leave between them from 2015, the government has announced.
Currently fathers can only take up to six months paternity leave in a single block, and only after their baby is 20 weeks old. Other than the initial fortnight after birth, couples will be now able to divide the entire year between them, and either parent will be legally entitled to return to their job as long as they do not go on leave for a total period of longer than six months.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the current rules are “Edwardian” and mean many mothers feel insecure about their careers.
“Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby. They should be supported by their employers, rather than being made to feel less employable or under pressure to take unchallenging jobs.”
“It is already illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant, or on maternity leave, but we want to go further than that. We want to create a fairer society that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth. We need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home, many fathers want that option too.”
The new entitlement would also encourage greater involvement by fathers, he claimed.
Employers will have the right to approve patterns of time off. But the Institute of Directors (IoD) described the plans as a “nightmare”.
IoD deputy director of policy Alexander Ehmann said: “The proposed system is considerably more complex and unwieldy than the current laws and employers will – once again – have to absorb the cost of adapting and implementing this new system.”
But Nick Clegg insisted:
“There shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach; that’s not how families are set up. Many businesses already recognise how productive and motivated employees are when they’re given the opportunity to work flexibly, helping them retain talent and boost their competitive edge. This is good for families, good for business and good for our economy.”