Debate sparked ahead of changes to paternity laws

The law already entitles new mothers to a year away from work, no matter how long they've been employed there. On returning, those mothers are guaranteed the same salary in the same (or a similar) role as before. When the law changes to acknowledge fathers on April 3, dads will be entitled to six months leave if that time hasn't been taken by the mother.

There's growing concern from small businesses about how they'll cope with the potential extended loss of key staff. Research from uSwitchforbusiness.com, showed  three in 10 small business owners would think twice about the staff they employ as a result of the changes.

The research polled 240 owners and decision makers, with between one and 50 employees. It revealed just 1% of business owners believed the paternity laws will have a positive impact on their business - and 39% felt they should be exempt.

James Constant, director of uSwitchforbusiness.com, says: "Our research shows SMEs are prepared to change their hiring policy as a result of what many see as punitive new paternity leave rules. The rules were designed to create more flexibility, but in fact may be forcing SMEs into a corner and could potentially lead to a less competitive job market."

Andrew Cove, chief spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses, agreed in a piece in this week's Telegraph: "We are looking for a more common-sense approach to maternity and paternity leave. It would be better for it to be negotiated between employee and employer."

Small business lobbyists are pushing for a 'common sense' exclusion for small businesses, giving the parents and employer the freedom to come to a satisfactory agreement.

Chancellor George Osborne could make an announcement in next week's Budget and there's speculation, as the Telegraph suggests, he'll exempt businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Such a move would be as strongly opposed by workers' rights supporters as it would be welcomed by businesses, however. Despite strict legal implications, some companies continue to disregard maternity rights. Kim Nicol of Workplace Legal Solutions told The Women's Business Club the number of tribunals hearing cases of women being unfairly treated because of pregnancy is growing:

"In one case, where a tribunal felt that a women had been subjected to an 'inhumane and sustained campaign of bullying and discrimination' after she announced that she was pregnant, she received £25,000 as compensation for injury to her feelings - and this was on top of her loss of earnings award."

So just who's view of 'common sense' should the Chancellor support? You'd like to think there's a sensible balance to be struck - but where?

Let us know what you think. Leave a comment in the box below, or head over to Smarta's advice section to get some top tips on hiring the right team.

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