This year was a first for my employer, the James Hutton Institute, and potentially all the UK research institutes on BBSRC employment Terms and Conditions: A father has taken time off work using Shared Parental Leave (SPL). That's something to be pleased about, although to me overshadowed of course by becoming a father.
The UK's new SPL system was introduced in April 2015, and is intended to allow working couples to share a year off after the birth of a child. The basics of the UK SPL scheme and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) rules are laid down in law, but good employers will pay the father more than the statutory minimum.
The James Hutton Institute is currently one of a number of UK research institutes who have staff employed on BBSRC Terms and Conditions, something it inherited from its creation by the merger of SCRI and MLURI. One of the nice things about this is that it isn't just the local Human Resources team who interpret the rules - we can turn to the BBSRC for advice. Surprisingly when our HR checked, we were told that this would be a test case. Understanding how the SPL scheme worked, and what the BBSRC Terms and Conditions actually meant, took a lot of back and forth. Still, it was nice to be breaking new ground for equality.
As you would hope from the James Hutton Institute's Athena Swan Bronze status, the principle guiding the BBSRC SPL payments is one of equality: If the mother just took the absolute minimum two weeks maternity leave, turning the remaining up to 52-2=50 weeks into SPL, and the father took his two weeks paternity leave (aka Maternity Support Leave) and all 50 weeks of SPL, then the father would be paid the same as a mother taking all 52 weeks of maternity leave. That example is a nice simple arrangement, but quite unlikely in practice.
Referring to the "RESEARCH COUNCIL MATERNITY, ADOPTIVE, MATERNITY SUPPORT (PATERNITY) AND PARENTAL LEAVE POLICY", the BBSRC T&Cs give the mother a generous 26 weeks maternity leave at full pay, then 37-26=11 weeks at Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) only, with the final 52-37=15 weeks unpaid. How much the father would be paid on SPL turns out to depend on both when it is taken, and if entitled to statutory pay at the time, or not. If taken within the first 26 weeks, any ShPP (i.e. SPL with statutory pay) is upgraded to full pay under the BBSRC terms.
My wife originally planned to take 38 weeks of maternity leave, which included all 37 weeks with Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or better from her employer, and one week of unpaid leave. That would have left 52-38=14 weeks of unpaid SPL available for me. Tempting, but financially that was not attractive.
Instead she is taking just 35 weeks of maternity leave, leaving a potential 52-35=17 weeks of SPL. Of this, 37-35=2 weeks are ShPP. I have taken the 2 weeks ShPP (paid SPL which is upgraded to full pay with pension contributions thanks to the BBSRC terms), and she is taking 3 weeks of unpaid SPL (meaning as originally planned, she is taking 38 weeks of leave combined). That initially sounds very good, but the catch is my wife is giving up two weeks of statutory pay with full pension contributions.
This Telegraph article touches on the poor uptake of SPL, and I agree that while the bureaucracy is a major hurdle, the main problem is the very nature of the scheme: Beyond the miserly two weeks, for the father to take (paid) time off work, the mother has to give up some of her (paid) maternity leave. Maybe one day the UK will catch up with Iceland, Norway and Sweden who (on top of a shared leave system) give the father three months paternity leave? Or Japan, where both parents are entitled to up to 52 weeks of partly paid leave (even if it is rare for the father to take much).