Flexible working: Shared parental leave

03 April 2015 by
Flexible working: Shared parental leave

The new shared parental leave laws, which come into force on 5 April, could signal the start of a new, ultra-flexible attitude to working within hospitality. Rosalind Mullen takes a look at how companies are going to cope

The legislation gives mothers the right to transfer leave they are due after the birth of their child to their partner, provided that each parent qualifies. Similar rights apply for adopting a child.

Predictably, there are fears that the industry will be burdened with yet more administration, costs, training and logistical nightmares, with independent hotels and restaurants suffering the most.

Nevertheless, the British Hospitality Association is urging the industry to see SPL as an opportunity. "For parents, it means greater flexibility in planning when to take time off work. For hospitality and tourism businesses, it means valuable employees can come back to work sooner," says Jackie Grech, legal and policy director.

One of the perceived complications for many operators is that of "broken leave". Under the new law, an employee is entitled to up to three separate periods of SPL in the baby's first year. Each period of leave can either be continuous or discontinuous. A continuous period of leave could be, for example, eight weeks in a row. A discontinuous period of leave could be working every other week over an eight-week period.

"This sort of request is likely to be extremely difficult for most employers to accommodate," says Andrew Chamberlain, partner, head of
employment at legal practice DWF LLP. "Accordingly, an employer is entitled to refuse it."

There are pros and cons to refusing discontinuous leave, however. For example, the employee can then ask to take the period as continuous leave - for which there is no right of refusal. Alternatively, the employee can withdraw the request, which means they have their three blocks of leave still to use.

There has also been some confusion about whether an operator will be responsible for checking the eligibility of an employee's partner, but Chamberlain is reassuring on this point: "There is no onus on employers to fit in with the partner's employer, even though this may seem counter-intuitive," he says. "The only information an employer is entitled to request is the name and address of the partner's employer, which they request from their own employee."

Another potential headache is how to adapt your HR and payroll systems to deal with the new rules on pay. Heather Vitty, client services director at HR and payroll software specialist Cascade, reckons the argument for a fully integrated HR and payroll system has never been stronger.

"Payroll software must be more robust than ever to cope with the variable elements that come with this new legislation," she says. "At the very east, there should be a more closely aligned working relationship between the two departments."

Employers can also use software to assess whether teams will cope if a parent seeks broken leave at a certain time or to plan when additional cover might be needed.

Then there is the question of pay itself. A survey by HR website Personnel Today found that most companies that offer above statutory maternity pay will also enhance shared parental pay. Further research has shown that employees are more likely to take up the right if pay is enhanced.

It's a lot to take in. The good news is that those companies that already have flexible working practices will be well-placed to manage the new law.

Hotel group Rezidor, for instance, already offers flexible working to both male and female staff. One male chef, for instance, takes weekends off to be with his children, while another male general manager arranges his workload so that he can collect his children from school every other day.

"Recruitment in the hospitality industry is a fierce war for talent," says Lisa Wade, area director HR, UK and Ireland. "We recognise that offering flexible working can be a key part of ensuring we attract, retain and develop the best people."

Nevertheless, even the BHA concedes that small operators are going to find it harder than the big boys, no matter how flexible they are.

"It's a great step forward in supporting flexibility for staff, but it does come at a price for small businesses - and that is greater complexity and red tape," says Grech. "The role of the BHA is to help hospitality and tourism businesses make sense of these new regulations."

One such small business is The Caterer's Best Place to Work in Hospitality 2014 award winner, the Cartford Inn, near Preston, Lancashire, where owners Patrick and Julie Beaumé have 68 staff.

"New legislation is constantly increasing the pressure on small and medium-sized businesses: health and safety, food safety, staff welfare and soon. There is always a cost implication and that can put you off being in business," says Patrick. "The best way to be productive and answer the needs of employees and the new legislation is to employ staff who are flexible and can multi-task."

The SPL law will make an impact, but not necessarily in a bad way. For a start, many hospitality businesses employ more women than men, so they are likely to gain from their staff returning to work earlier.

Furthermore, recent TUC analysis reckons that 40% of working fathers with a child under the age of one would be ineligible because their partner is not in paid work.

Indeed, mothers who are not employed or self-employed do not have a right to share maternity leave or pay.

According to government projections, as few as 5,700 men across all industries are expected to apply for shared parental leave over the next 12 months.

And if you are still worried, take note that half of new fathers in the UK do not even take their full two weeks' statutory paternity leave.

The facts about parental leave

What is it? From 5 April 2015 the law will change in England, Scotland and Wales so that eligible couples who work will be entitled to shared parental leave (SPL) and statutory shared parental pay (SSPP) between the baby's birth and first birthday (or within one year of adoption).

How SPL works The mother must take two weeks off after childbirth. Eligible parents then can split the remaining 50 weeks' entitlement between them.

•The employee can ask to take SPL in up to three blocks. The employer has to accept a request to take it in one continuous block, but can refuse discontinuous leave with breaks to return to work in between.

•Eligible parents can share 50 weeks' leave and 37 weeks' pay. Similar rules apply for adoptive parents.

•SHPP is £138.18 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

•Employers need to have decided whether to offer enhanced pay for employees on SPL and whether or not to offer shared parental leave in touch (Split) days.

•The mother or adopter must give at least eight weeks' notice to the employer before ending maternity leave and starting SPL.

•A parent can start SPL while their partner is still on maternity leave as long as binding notice has been given to end it.

Who is eligible?

•The parent requesting SPL must share care of the child with a spouse, civil partner, joint adopter or the child's other parent.

•The parent must have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date and be continuously employed by the same employer during SPL.

For detailed information, visit www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay

Don't make assumptions when it comes to parental duties

By its very nature, schools caterer the Brookwood Partnership is family friendly, attracting working parents who want term-time or part-time hours. Its flexibility in accommodating staff returning from long-term sick or maternity leave has earned the company Investors in People status since 2002, and listings in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For (ranked second in 2014).

"I am supportive of the shared leave arrangements," says managing partner Sue Parfett. "In today's world you can't assume one parent is the breadwinner and the other is the home-maker."

However, she does have concerns about the logistics of shared parental leave because, although Brookwood is a large, multi-site business with more than 1,000 staff, each site has a maximum of only 10 staff.

"Where it will be harder to accommodate will be where someone wishes to take on-off blocks as part of shared parental leave," she says. "With small groups in each site, particularly if [the cover is for] a skilled management role, it is hard to see how this on-off arrangement would work."

Planning cover for maternity or paternity leave is already tricky, she says: "Fewer than 5% of babies arrive on their due date, and fathers don't want to start their leave until the baby arrives, so it is difficult. The elements that affect shared parental leave will be arranging the cover and associated costs."

Depending on the role, Parfett says cover will either be drawn from within the business or through employing agency staff. Some 78% of its employees are women, which means that shared parental leave may not turn out to be much of an issue for Brookwood. Nine of the 14 operations managers are women and 100 of the 158 site managers are women.

"Even with this new legislation on the horizon, many of our expectant fathers are only considering taking the current two weeks' leave," says Parfett.

However, she points out that uptake of paternity leave was initially slow, too. Despite the associated costs of any change in legislation, such as legal advice, rewriting of policies and training management, Parfett is sanguine about the impact of the new laws.

She explains: "There is no room for gaps in the workforce, but I'd say foodservice operators, especially those in education, will find it easier to accommodate the new laws so long as they plan in advance."

Rewrite policies in clear, simple terms

The HR team at the 400-strong PizzaExpress chain in the UK are already training managers and staff on the new rules and notification periods and have rewritten the policies in clear, simple terms.

Certainly, the size of the £231m turnover business and the fact it already has streamlined payroll processes mean there is no sense of panic in the HR department.

"We had already implemented flexible working for families, so the new laws are a natural extension. The way we work means it is not a problem," says Sarah Liggett, HR business partner operations. "We are a large business and can be flexible with shifts, so arranging cover is not an issue."

So the provision of cover will continue as usual. This is through transferring staff temporarily from another restaurant, bringing in staff on an interim contract, or promoting a staff member temporarily as part of their development path.

With 10,000 employees in the UK, PizzaExpress could potentially have a logistical nightmare on its hands, but Liggett says size works in its favour.

"We are lucky, because we have lots of restaurants close by, so we can move people within a reasonable travel distance of home. And they in turn get to experience a different restaurant," she says.

Although at this stage the cost implications are difficult to anticipate, Liggett points out that there was only a small uptake when paternity leave
was introduced. "It would be costly if both the mum and the dad worked for us, but we are not expecting that to happen very often," she says.

Nor does she see the potential increase in managers taking leave to be a problem. "We have a good mix of male and female managers
and a great succession plan, so there should be no problem if managers need to take leave at the same time."

Attracting employees through flexible working

Hotel group Rezidor operates across EMEA, so it is already experienced at dealing with broader parental leave rights in other European countries.

"We haven't found parental leave burdensome for our business - quite the opposite," says area director HR, UK and Ireland Lisa Wade.

She cites Hakon Gjerde, hotel manager of two Park Inn hotels in Oslo and Stavanger in Norway. He recently took three months' paternity and one month's holiday after the birth of his daughter. His job was covered by a general manager returning from maternity leave.

"This was an ideal job for her to come back to and the hotel team members benefited from an alternative perspective and experience," says Wade.

Gjerde's wife also works for Rezidor as a manager, and so because he was able to take leave, she could return to work earlier. The other bonus of this is that as the baby has bonded with both parents, it will make it easier for the couple to manage future childcare, explains Wade.

"We often find that by offering flexible work opportunities to men, it supports women who want to pursue career opportunities, so there can be a double benefit," she adds.

Rezidor currently employs 48% women and 52% men and this flexible approach to working helps support its Women in Leadership initiative, which aims to increase the number of women in senior roles.

Where some smaller employers may regard finding staff cover as a problem, Rezidor has a large international pool of mobile labour to draw on. It also views general managers taking maternity leave as an opportunity to develop staff by giving them an acting general manager role - with support.

As 5 April approaches, Wade says there have been no enquiries in the UK and Ireland from fathers wanting to take long stretches of parental leave. But while she admits that there could be cost implications, she stresses: "We know how important flexible working conditions are for retaining and attracting team members."

Rezidor's flexible working strategy has three key elements: it supports part-time work; shifts the focus of development plans on to what the individual needs from the company; and accepts that people have ever-changing circumstances.

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