Equal opportunities for fathers from April 2015 onwards

There are new proposals in the pipeline that have a chance to alter the way the workplace responds to new arrivals. Under the plans, mothers and fathers who are expecting children will have more flexibility when planning their parental leave.

The Liberal Democrat equalities minister, Jo Swinson, has recently announced plans for parents to share a year of parental leave between them after the birth of a new child. Its seems cultural change within the workplace is the aim. The hope is this will prevent the conflict between work and family life, making it just as easy for fathers to take on child caring responsibilities as mothers.

The proposals suggest parents should share 12 months of leave after the birth of a child. They also aim to help women return to the workplace and allow men to have more involvement in caring for new babies.

Under the new plans starting in April 2015, a couple will have to give their employers a breakdown of how they plan to share their leave, eight weeks before it starts. They will then be able to change their proposals twice during the year-long leave. Fathers will also get a new right to unpaid leave to attend up to two antenatal appointments. There is also a concession made for the benefit of businesses. Employers will have to agree any proposed pattern of time off and have the right to insist it is confined to a continuous block.

But the coalition has stated that the proposed plans may create hassle for businesses. Conservative cabinet ministers want couples to give a binding commitment on how they would share the leave in advance, but the Lib Dems have argued this would defeat the point of flexibility.

The British Chambers of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses have welcomed the new proposals but the Institute of Directors said the new plans would create a "nightmare" for smaller firms.

Parents will only be entitled to get the same job back if they take less than six months off, and anyone who takes longer might potentially get a similar but not identical role on their return. 

The Conservatives previously disallowed Nick Clegg's demands for a month of dedicated "daddy leave" instead of the current two weeks. Critics also pointed out surveys suggesting just one in 20 men would take up the offer.

The two parties have agreed to review the take-up of shared parental leave by fathers and look at extending paid paternity leave and pay once the economy is in a stronger position.

According to Jo Swinson, “more must be done to encourage men to take up their rights. We do have cultural double standards in many workplaces, we do really need to think about how we address some of those cultural barriers in workplaces.” Mrs Swinson also stated that the new plans to give all employees the right to request flexible working could also potentially change the “stigma or resentment" towards mothers who work part-time in some workplaces.

Under the reforms, this right will be extended from parents and carers to all workers, and companies will have a new duty to consider the request in a reasonable way, rather than going through a statutory process.

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