Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Training at My Family Care

Shared Parental Leave is a complicated matter with the majority of the UK population being unclear about the maternity and paternity benefits that are on offer come April 2015.

At the moment it’s quite simple, the onus is fairly and squarely on ‘mum.’ It’s mum who gets up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and 39 weeks ‘pay (whether statutory or enhanced by their employer) and dad who gets one or two weeks ordinary paternity leave and (lower) pay.

In 2014 the majority of dads still don’t take more than a week off to care for their new arrival because there’s little financial incentive, it’s stereotypically ‘not the norm’, and frankly, employers do little to encourage it.

However, change is definitely coming and everyone is interested. For any parents of babies due on or after April 5th 2015 Shared Parental Leave will come into effect.

In simple terms Shared Parental Leave is a new way of taking and sharing leave for new parents. Birth mothers must still take a minimum of two weeks’ maternity leave and pay for health reasons. After that, the remaining 50 weeks leave, including 37 weeks’ statutory pay can be shared between them flexibly, stopping and starting again - IF the mother elects to share her leave. If she does not, then maternity leave and pay remain as before. Ordinary paternity leave and pay also remain in place. Additional Paternity Leave will no longer be an option.

But what does this all mean to employers? In May 2014 we ran a poll: how concerned are you about what SPL will mean for your business? A whopping 75% of employers were terrified (or at least slightly worried) about what was coming.

Ultimately what you, as a company, choose to do will depend on whether you want your employees to take it up and how it fits in with their strategic goals.

The biggest concern for employers was around how they will actually implement the new provision for their staff. With the main worry being around the amount of internal administrative changes the legislation will create, while companies also revealed anxieties over managing resources in periods of leave and communicating the changes to staff. There was also a lack of certainty around pay.

One company that has been very proactive with implementing the changes is banking group, Citi, which has 10,000 UK-based employees. On average 5 per cent of these become new parents each year. Carolanne Minashi, Managing Director EMEA Head of Diversity, Employee Relations and Engagement at the company says: “If you’re a company like Citi that offers their staff significant benefits then the introduction of SPL provides a great opportunity to explore what the policy could offer in terms of reputation, brand building and culture. It is companies like ours where we want to offer our staff a family-friendly place to work in, that the changes will give companies a lot of thinking to do – and that takes time.

“What the government is aiming for is to give parents as much choice as possible on how they want to manage the care of their child and once you stick to that principle it’s not confusing.”

Many employers who already offer very attractive maternity pay already are facing a dilemma; if they don’t enhance, then what message does that send to employees? If they enhance the pay they’ll have to deal with the cost and disruption - never mind the stop/start issue of taking leave. Realistically it’s going to come down to each individual firms decision - some will and some won’t, but at least it has forced employers to focus on the whole issue of how they support working mothers and fathers.

Everyone knows that money talks. For any couple looking at sharing their leave, the pay offered by their respective companies will be a big part of the decision. But the cultural factors and how acceptable it’s deemed within a company will have a big part to play.

Ultimately, moving forwards to a place where parenting is truly gender neutral means mind-set changes for both men and women.