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Law firm research reveals low uptake of new family-friendly leave initiative among Yorkshire’s biggest employers.

FEWER than 1-in-1,000 Yorkshire and Humberside employees have taken advantage of a flagship family-friendly initiative designed to improve work-life balance, according to research unveiled today (Tuesday May 30).

Milners, the long-established law firm headquartered in Leeds with sister offices in Harrogate and Pontefract, canvassed the region’s biggest employers to gain a first-hand insight into popularity of Shared Parental Leave (SPL).

Its research discovered that out of more than 56,000 people employed by these private and public sector organisations, just 54 of them had taken up the option since it was launched by the Government in April 2015.

The Milners findings also highlighted wide disparities in how employers publicised the initiative and how accessible it was made to their staff.

SPL was introduced by the Government to replace Additional Paternity Leave and, for the first time, entitles both parents to share statutory leave and pay – subject to the eligibility criteria in place – with their partner on the birth or adoption of their child.

“Our research was carried out to coincide with the second anniversary of this major change in employment law – yet it reveals an uptake that is breathtakingly low,” said Milners’ Managing Partner, employment law expert Simon Bass.

“It was trumpeted as a family-friendly policy, designed to help working dads improve their work-life balance, spend more time in a ‘hands-on’ role raising their family,and lift the load from their partners. It also offered mums the chance to return to their jobs earlier if they wanted.

“But our analysis would suggest that here in Yorkshire and Humberside there is either little appetite for it, little knowledge about it – or both.”

He added: “There is also some anecdotal evidence that some working dads fear discrimination, and that their career prospects may suffer, if they pursue SPL.

“Others who are the main breadwinner in the family say it is simply not an affordable option.

“Both these reasons will give employers and the Government important food for thought if the initiative is to be rebooted and not simply left to wither on the vine.

“The ‘affordability’ claim is yet another clear argument for narrowing gender pay gaps – the public reporting of which became mandatory for employers with more than 250 staff earlier this month.”

Results from the Milners survey also identified a number of employers who very much adopted best practice in weaving the changes into their HR policies and sharing them widely and proactively with staff – for example gaining signatures to ensure they had received and understood the new legislation.

But there were several instances where there was no specific policy about SPL or the change had simply been uploaded to the staff intranet, which was not easily accessible to all employees.

Mr Bass added: “We would like to thank all those who contributed to this piece of research, which for the first time offers a window into the take-up of what was billed as a torchbearer for the reform of parental leave.

“It is clear from this analysis that so far its popularity has been very disappointing. Now is the time to review why it has had such limited appeal and explore ways in which the trend can be reversed.”