Paternity leave shoots up from two weeks to 10 months - but it's not all bad news

Clegg's proposals will extend those measures. Mothers will automatically get six weeks off after the birth, then parents have to decide how to split a 46-week period between themselves - only one parent can have the parental leave at a time. So a father could take the full 10 months off if the mother was back at work - or vice versa.

This is a whopping increase from the current two-week paternity leave allowance. The changes are Lib Dem pre-election policy. Clegg is due to say today: "We want to do everything we can to make sure [the changes] will be taken up by the thousands of parents in Alarm Clock Britain - parents who work hard, pay their bills, try to stay out of debt, and want the best for their families. Who want both mothers and fathers to be involved in bringing up their children."

The sentiment is undoubtedly honourable. It is a defiant and bold step away from traditional (and sexist) assumptions that mothers should stay at home with their children, and will help prevent the (equally sexist) legislative marginalisation of fathers raising children.

Both of which are of course to be saluted. The trouble is, as with so much of HR legislation, small businesses have to bear the administrative and practical brunt of enforcing wider societal changes. Just as it was with the Equality Act, it is the cornershop owners and startup consultancies and ailing four-person businesses who will be shafted by extra paperwork and bureaucratic complexities.

"The plans show a complete lack of understanding of how small businesses work," said David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. "If men and women have flexible leave, how can you plan cover?" (It is reasonable to expect a torrent of business lobby group statements raging along these lines over the next few days.)

But perhaps the inevitable business group outcries and the furious newspaper headlines hyping up men going AWOL from the office for almost a year are missing a potential silver lining here - one that could well brighten the looming HR cloud for many of you.

Denise Hooper is a director of Wright & Crawford Solicitors in Glasgow, a team of 15. While she criticises the decision of the Coalition to being in such drastic changes at a time when businesses are struggling, she thinks the proposal could actually benefit any businesses who employ mothers. "We're mainly women here, and we have staff members take up to a year off. Potentially, if a couple of women take maternity leave at the same time, it can be tricky. There's nothing you can do about it."

Hooper thinks that if men and women alternated in leave, women employees would be free to return to work sooner, easing the burden on employers usually faced with missing female staff for up to a year. "Although it depends on the composition of the business - if you have an office full of men could be more problematic!"

As a mother herself, she also feels 'it would be really good for the dad to be at home and get a shot at the whole thing. It would have been helpful if my husband could have been at home more, and it would have been beneficial to me'.

Therein lies another advantage: for mothers who are running their own business. If the father of their child is legally freed up to take time off work to manage child care, the mum can get back to running her business much sooner.

The trick is, then, to manage the administrative side of things in an organised fashion. Chris Parke, managing director and co-founder of executive coaching company Talking Talent, says: "Business leaders have two considerations to make when it comes to the parental leave legislation. Firstly, they need to look at how they plan to extend their statutory pay around paternity. And, secondly, they may need to consider how they would change their corporate culture so that men are encouraged to take additional paternity leave without it being viewed in a negative way or damaging to their careers."

Parke points to countries like Norway and Sweden, where 'it is the norm in society for either parent to take on the main childcare role'. He adds: "There is increasing pressure these days for men to work all hours, but a balance needs to be struck."

Interestingly, Hooper says the administration side of things 'hasn't caused us a lot of grief - we generally know how long the person is having off with good notice'. She adds: "There's nothing you can do about it - you just have to work with it."

Which is just as well really, seeing as research from Talking Talent in November 2010 found 46% of fathers would take advantage of the new shared parental leave compared with 33% who wouldn't.

How do you think changes to paternity leave will affect you? Are the newspapers and lobby groups putting a negative spin on something which could work to small businesses' favour, or could these changes really hurt businesses?

We'd love to hear your views in comment below.

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