Does Your Company Need to Think About Publishing its Parental Policies?

3rd December 2019
Catherine Vickery

As we hurtle towards a General Election, there’s currently no shortage of issues and pledges being debated in the press. But one employment issue that is worth highlighting, particularly for those of us working for large companies, is the campaign being spearheaded by Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson to call for businesses to publish their maternity and paternity policies.

Swinson is calling on the government to require employers of more than 250 people to publish their parental pay and leave policies. She explains ‘transparency on parental pay is so vital. Four in five people say they wouldn’t be comfortable asking about parental pay at interview, and this bill would mean they could find the information without having to ask. This is a simple, cost-free step that all employers can take to create a more supportive culture for new parents.’

Popular website Mumsnet is also supporting this campaign and they recently conducted a survey of over 1000 parents and prospective parents and the results revealed how keeping these policies hidden has a considerable impact on parents returning to work or looking to switch jobs. Their survey showed that 66% of respondents have avoided asking about parental leave policies at interview stage, for fear of giving a negative impression; 57% have avoided asking after receiving a job offer; and 40% have avoided asking after starting their new job. Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts claims that by not publishing the relevant policies, companies are facilitating a hidden form of discrimination. She says ‘women thinking about starting or adding to their families are finding it impossible to make informed judgements about job offers, and dads who want to play their full part are increasingly finding themselves in the same position; even asking the question can mean they go no further in an application process’.

It sounds like a common-sense proposal, but some business owners have expressed concerns about potential negative consequences, such as the risk of a company possibly opting to offer only statutory rates of family pay, so that there is no risk of them having to subsequently and publicly reduce an enhanced policy. Also, some companies will use discretion or goodwill to increase leave payments on a case by case basis and sometimes some enhanced packages come with strict conditions such as lengthy service requirements to qualify and these terms, conditions and variances might not be reflected in a general default position statement.

As the Government continue to consult on the proposed new law, numerous large UK firms have already committed to make their parental policies public, including Santander, Deloitte, KPMG and RBS and more are expected to follow suit before any change in the law. As more companies get on board and publish their policies, it is generally expected that even whilst the decision to do so remains voluntary, not publicly disclosing this information may start to reflect negatively on companies, as applicants might end up drawing inaccurate or adverse conclusions as a result of a lack of information.

Justine Roberts says, ‘as with gender pay gap reporting, this sort of public accountability celebrates employers with inclusive policies, powerfully incentivises others to be better and allows parents to decide which vacancies are worth their time applying for’. As today’s workforce increasingly values flexible working and both employers and employees recognise the importance of encouraging a good work-life balance, it seems likely that publishing parental policies will start to be accepted as a standard part of reflecting the company’s culture and approach to working parents.