Netflix, with offices based solely in the United States, have recently announced that they will allow employees to take an unlimited amount of time away from work as parental leave during the first year of a child’s birth or adoption. Staff will also receive their full salary and will have the opportunity to start and stop work whenever they want. Would such a scheme ever work in the UK?
Currently, employees have the statutory right to eighteen weeks of parental leave, capped at a maximum of four weeks leave per year. The leave is unpaid and the purpose of the scheme is to allow the employee to look after their child’s welfare, such as spending more time with their child, looking at new schools or settling their child in to new care arrangements. The entitlement to eighteen weeks applies to each individual child and not the job the employee holds, therefore if the employee changes their job they will carry over the remainder of their previous entitlement. There are certain notice requirements surrounding the statutory scheme and, in certain circumstances, the employer can postpone the employee taking the leave if they have a significant reason to do so.
Employers do have the option to increase any parental leave rights offered within their business above and beyond the statutory rights. However, this will generally be an important decision following a weighing up of the advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages of an enhanced parental leave scheme could be an increase in retention and recruitment of employees, as this will be attractive to current and new employees who have child caring responsibilities. The enhanced scheme could also lead to an increase in productivity and performance of your employees whilst they are at work; the employee will have the opportunity to take an increased amount of time off to care for their family, so whilst they are at work they can focus on the job in hand. Another benefit could be a decrease in the level of unauthorised absenteeism because the employee could take parental leave instead of taking steps such as faking sickness to care for their children.
Disadvantages of an increase to parental leave could surround the management of how to juggle an increased number of requests, especially where these are competing, because the refusal of one request over another has the potential to be sex discriminatory. The enhanced leave scheme would also lead to employers having to ensure work is covered whilst employees are on leave, this may lead to increased costs if this involves having to hire temporary or agency staff.
Employees who meet certain eligibility requirements are also able to take shared parental leave, but must share a year’s worth of leave between them.