The Chancellor has announced that from 2018, under the shared parental leave (SPL) scheme, grandparents will be able to share up to 50 weeks’ leave with their child in order to care for their grandchildren in the first year after birth or placement for adoption. What will such a development mean for families, and when might it be used?
2 million reasons for this policy
The government says there are 2 million grandparents who have stopped work, reduced their hours or taken time off to provide crucial care for their grandchildren (although the TUC suggests that the number of working grandparents providing regular childcare is much higher). They also say that some grandparents have stopped work earlier than they wished so that they could provide this support to their family. The government’s motivation is primarily financial – they want people to remain in work as long as possible – and this may also be in line with grandparents’ wishes.
When will parents and grandparents want to share SPL? The devil will be in the detail of the legislation and it is not yet clear whether it could be a 3-way (or 4, 5, or 6-way) split between mother, father and grandparent(s).
Single parents would benefit
It might be particularly helpful for single parents who do not currently have the flexibility to mix work and leave which couples have. The new provision could enable a working grandparent to take time off work to share the care for up to 50 weeks from the birth. Both parent and grandparent could take advantage of the flexibility given by shared parental leave, which includes up to 20 Keep in Touch days.
Keeping grandparents in work longer
It will help grandparents remain in work while providing some, albeit small, income and protection. It is well known that it is very difficult for older workers to get back into work if they take time off to care.
Will employers pay for it?
There may be some unintended negative consequences. It may mean that fewer employers are willing to offer enhanced SPL if they are at “risk” of having to pay it to almost any member of their staff. Employers that try to limit the impact by offering enhanced pay to parents but not to grandparents may be at risk of age discrimination claims unless they can justify the disparity in treatment. Many employers may choose to avoid the possibility of such claims by not paying any enhancement at all. This may result in fewer parents and particularly fathers being able to afford to share the care.
Letting dads off the hook
It may also mean that grandparents (more likely to be grandmothers) as opposed to fathers make use of SPL. If men do not start sharing the caring, this will not be good for gender equality in the workplace. What is needed is the sharing of caring between men and women to remove the stereotypes about women’s role as primary carer.
Flexibility to care for our families, in the face of ever-increasing child care costs, is to be welcomed. But we still need to increase awareness of the current SPL scheme and encourage fathers to take at least some SPL.
A long wait
We have 3 years to prepare for these proposals. In the meantime what can working grandparents do if they want to take time off? They are still able to request flexible working, though the employer can refuse. However, once such a change has been agreed there is no absolute right to return to the original hours of work. There may also be a possible reduction in income if hours are reduced.
For more information on flexible working requests please see our factsheet (http://www.yesslaw.org.uk/fact-sheets/flexible-working).
Emma Webster, YESS
SPLash (SPL advice on sharing) has been created by an alliance of organisations with expertise in employment law and issues affecting parents at work. Its purpose is the sharing of knowledge and best practice on shared parental leave.