Liam Kerr: Solution of sorts to balancing parenting and work demands

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FAMILY plus career can be a tricky problem to solve. Childcare struggles and work commitments can often provide blockers for the typical Scottish family.

But fresh government proposals could soon offer an alternative option to lighten the load with the introduction of a shared system of parental leave.

The proposal is to replace maternity and additional paternity leave from 2015, with a total of 52 weeks’ of leave that may be shared between the couple (although the mother is the only one still entitled to the first two weeks). Fathers will continue to be entitled to two weeks of ordinary paternity leave.

The government believes that employers will benefit by retaining skilled employees, and commentators have suggested these proposals could help prevent women of child-bearing age from being discriminated against.

The take-up of the current additional paternity leave provisions has been notoriously low, while the entitlement to make flexible working requests remains relatively rare. With statutory pay levels for the majority of leave at a fairly minimal level, and nil in the last three months, financial pressures may prevent couples from applying.

But business leaders have expressed worries regarding the administrative burden of numerous flexible working requests and managing employees who wish to alternate maternity/parental leave with their partner.

There are also worries about the costs the new system could pose, especially in regards to preventing abuse and monitoring new rights. Employers also worry about calculating statutory parental pay, holiday entitlement and resourcing roles during temporary or short-term absence. Stereotypical perceptions of men as breadwinners and women as caregivers may further impact requests.

Increased rights to leave will not necessarily change cultural attitudes and the nation’s view on parental leave. But the changes proposed may allow a greater degree of choice, which will undoubtedly be of great interest to Scottish families as they decide who should stay at home and hold the baby.

• Liam Kerr is an employment specialist with CMS Cameron McKenna LLP.