Shared Parental Leave Take-Up Could Be 30%

Two surveys published to mark the anniversary of the introduction of shared parental leave suggest that its take-up could be around 30%, although more in-depth research is needed.

Widespread reporting that the take-up of shared parental leave was just 1% has demonstrated much of the media’s appetite for an extreme headline, but may also have hidden much higher take-up than anticipated.

Shared parental leave became available for parents of babies born on or after 5 April 2015. It allows working parents to share leave and pay, provided they qualify.

Research from My Family Care and the Women’s Business council suggested that 1% of men in the organisations surveyed – not 1% of fathers as was widely reported – had taken up the opportunity of shared parental leave.

The combined survey of more than 1,000 individuals and 200 HR directors found that opting to take shared parental leave was deeply dependant on individual circumstances, particularly on their financial situations and levels of pay on offer from employers.

The 1% figure was based on data from 200 HR directors about their organisations’ employees and was given as a proportion of all men employed, not a percentage of fathers eligible to take shared parental leave.

Of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 10% had had a baby or adopted a child in the past 12 months. Of this group, 24% of women and 30% of men said they had taken shared parental leave.

While the subset is small, another piece of research by Totaljobs among 628 respondents revealed similar findings.

Out of its 86 respondents that had a child in the past year, 31% said they are using or had used their right to shared parental leave; 48% did not use their right; and 21% said they were not eligible.

With sample sizes of new parents so low though, experts warned that it is difficult to place too much confidence in the data, although the fact the two surveys had similar figures for take-up among fathers was encouraging.

Mark Crail, content director at XpertHR, said: “If the 30% figures are correct then take-up has been higher than expected – it’s good news, not the shock-horror story that much of the media has been running about these research findings.

“The problem is, many employers simply will not know whether or not men are eligible for shared parental leave unless and until they apply. If someone’s partner has a baby and they choose not to tell their employer, they won’t show up in the records. That makes it extremely difficult to get a good overview of what’s really happening. The research should be taken with a pinch of salt.”

The two surveys also appeared to tally when respondents answered questions around what might stop parents taking advantage of shared parental leave.

In the Totaljobs research, most (85%) of those surveyed said families could not afford to take advantage of shared parental leave; 81% feared there would be an impact on their career; and 78% said that lack of awareness was a factor.

Nearly three-fifths of women (58%) and slightly fewer men (53%) said mothers preferring to be the main carer was a factor in not taking advantage of shared parental leave.

In My Family Care’s research, a factor why respondents – both mothers and fathers – had chosen not to take up shared parental leave was financial affordability, with 55% citing this as the main reason. Nearly half (47%) said it was because their partners did not want to share the leave, while a lack of awareness about the options was cited by 46% of respondents.

Of the 200 employers questioned, the majority said they enhanced maternity pay (77%) and paternity pay (65%), but just under half (47%) enhanced shared parental pay.  The same number offered statutory benefits only.

An impact assessment by the Government on the introduction of shared parental leave also assumed that take up would be low (between 2% and 8%) reflecting the minimal take-up of additional paternity leave, which was introduced in 2011.

Changes to the National Minimum Wages

The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 lays down minimum levels of hourly pay for certain employees. The current rate for those aged 21 and over is £6.70 per hour. From 1 April 2016, the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016 introduce the national living wage, set at £7.20 per hour, for workers aged 25 and over.

The National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 make sure that the hourly rate, at which a worker is entitled to be paid in respect of his or her work in any pay reference period, is the rate that is in force on the first day of that period. The pay reference period is a month or, in the case of a worker who is paid wages by reference to a period shorter than a month, that period. Therefore, where a pay reference period begins before 1 April 2016, the old rate of the national minimum wage will apply for that pay reference period.

From 1 April 2016, the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016 introduce a compulsory national living wage of £7.20 per hour for all workers aged 25 and over. The Regulations also double the financial penalties for which employers will be liable if they are found to have paid any workers below the national minimum wage. The penalty is increased from 100% to 200% of the total underpayment for all workers specified in the HMRC notice of underpayment.

If you need to know more about these changes, how they affect your business and your employees, or how to handle the changes, come to our next Employment Law Update workshop. It is being held on 12 April 2016 in Wargrave, Berkshire and costs just £20 +VAT. Click here for details and online booking.

Are You Allowed to Use an E-Cigarette at Work?

A smoking ban has been in place in the UK since July 2007, preventing anyone from smoking indoors at work premises and other enclosed spaces. The ban applies to all substances that can be smoked, including cigarettes, herbal cigarettes, cigars and pipes – involving the burning of any substance.

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes give off a vaporised water-based mist, but do not burn any substances. This means that, strictly speaking, they’re not covered by the smoking ban. The increased use of e-cigarettes has prompted a government debate, and it seems that there are now plans to make it illegal to sell them to under 18s, or to adults on their behalf. With the growing use of e-cigarettes, this could be a good time to re-assess your workplace rules on smoking.

Here we’ll give you our answers to some of the common questions we’re currently being asked.


Do we have to provide a separate area for e-smokers?

Employees who want to stop smoking by using e-cigarettes may complain about having to use the same designated smoking area as those smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, the law does not require you to provide any smoking area for your staff.

If you choose to designate an area for tobacco smokers, as most employers do, you must make sure that it is legally compliant. It can’t be enclosed and the smoke must not be able to enter the rest of the workplace. The same rules do not apply if you decide to provide an area for the use of e-cigarettes. You will just need to consider where you site this area in relation to any smoking area.

One particularly robust option is to prohibit any type of smoking altogether in your workplace.


Non-smokers are complaining about the vapour from e-cigarettes in the office – what should we do?

The law does not stop you from banning the use of e-cigarettes at work. If you want to do this, it is best to have a written policy in place, so that there is no confusion over what is, and what is not, allowed. Any smoke-free policy, whether it extends to e-cigarettes or not, should apply to staff of all levels without exception and even to third parties such as customers, visitors and contractors.


Some of my e-smoking staff have complained that they don’t get as many breaks as tobacco smokers. What should I do?

As an employer, you are not obliged to allow smoking breaks in addition to the usual work-day breaks, and there is increasing evidence that they disrupt productivity and hinder performance.

If this is a problem for your business, you might wish to implement a policy that prohibits additional smoking breaks during the working day. This means that employees can only use e-cigarettes or smoke during their usual breaks and outside working hours. Some employers ask e-smokers and smokers to make up any time spent on additional breaks during work hours, but the success of this very much depends on the workplace environment, industry and culture.

If you would like to implement a policy for dealing with e-cigarettes in your business, get in touch and we’ll talk about how to build it into your employment contracts. Call us on 0118 940 3032 or email


Holiday Commission Payments – The Verdict

Finally we have the decision about the calculation of commission payments.

This well publicised case was brought by Mr Lock, an employee of British Gas. He was paid a basic salary and commission based on the sales he made which represented, on average, over 60% of his take home pay.

British Gas paid holiday pay to Mr Lock based on his basic salary only, plus commission on sales he had earned prior to the holiday period. This resulted, in the weeks and months after the period of leave, in times when Mr Lock only received basic salary and not commission. This was because Mr Lock was not at work during the period of leave, did not make sales and did not generate any commission.

Mr Lock brought a claim against British Gas contending that his holiday pay should be based on basic salary and average commission.

The employment tribunal asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) whether employers should include commission when calculating holiday pay and both decided that Mr Lock should be paid holiday pay including overtime. Since the ECJ we have been awaiting for the employment tribunal to see how to give effect to the ECJ decision.

At the hearing Leicester employment tribunal made it clear that the case was not about whether the commission received by Mr Lock should be included because the ECJ had already decided that it should. The case was about whether the Working Time Regulations could be interpreted to give effect to the ECJ decision.

The employment tribunal concluded that it could by adding wording to the Working Time Regulations which requires employers with workers who have normal working hours but who receive commission or similar payments to calculate holiday pay as if their pay varied with the amount of work done. The effect is to require employers to calculate holiday pay based on an average of the previous 12 weeks’ pay.

The Next Steps

Not all commission payments will qualify and have to be taken into account. You should reconsider how you calculate holiday pay if you operate a similar commission scheme, as you may face a claim for back pay. Legislation was introduced to limit the impact of such claims by restricting back pay for two years for cases on or after 1 July 2015.

This decision relates only to the calculation of four week’s holiday and not the entire current statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks or any enhanced holiday. You should also check any contractual provisions. If you need any help calculating holiday pay for your employees, call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email us.

What’s the Best Way to Keep Your Staff Happy?

Happy employees make happy clients and customers. Here’s a check list of all the things you should be doing, to keep your staff – and therefore your clients and customers – happy. How many are you doing?

  • Improve their engagement with your company – low cost options include offering flexibility, the opportunity to buy or sell holiday and working from home
  • Cheer everyone up – buy them food at work
  • Give lots of praise – in public, if necessary
  • Recognise their achievements – a lot
  • Be reassuring (but realistic) about job security
  • Be flexible about working hours and opportunities to improve their work life balance
  • Be open, honest and involved with your team
  • Keep them in touch with all the news – good or bad
  • Keep up with employees training and development – it does not need to cost a lot. Don’t abandon development and new opportunities. Job training is perceived as a value
  • Develop your company culture – involve everyone in decisions and provide opportunities for staff who don’t normally work together to get to know each other
  • Offer chances to put forward suggestions – it could save you a fortune and it increases the sense of ownership and belonging
  • Provide regular team meetings to reinforce the company culture and beliefs
  • Think about using a promotion as a low cost way of improving self-esteem and self-worth
  • Treat everyone with respect – it doesn’t cost anything and it improves motivation.

How well did you score? What more could you be doing to keep your staff happy?

What’s the Difference Between Informal and Formal Appraisals?

This is a question I’m often asked by managers, so I thought I would answer it here.

A performance appraisal can occur in two ways – informally or more formally (or systematically.) Informal appraisals can be carried out whenever the supervisor feels it is necessary. The day-to-day working relationship between a manager and an employee offers an opportunity for the employee’s performance to be assessed. This assessment is communicated through conversation on the job, over coffee, or by on-the-spot examination of a particular piece of work. Informal appraisals are especially appropriate when time is an issue. The longer feedback is delayed, the less likely it is to encourage a change in behaviour. Frequent informal feedback to employees can also prevent surprises when the formal evaluation is communicated. However, you should make sure that they don’t become too informal – don’t be tempted to discuss an appraisal in the pub!

Although informal appraisals are useful, they should not take the place of formal appraisals. These are used when the contact between a manager and an employee is more formal. This could be when they don’t see each other on a daily, or even weekly basis. It requires a system to be in place to report managerial impressions and observations on employee performance.

When Should You Carry out Appraisals?

Appraisals typically are conducted once or twice a year, most often annually, near the anniversary of the employee’s start date. For new employees, common timing is to conduct an appraisal 90 days after employment, again at six months and annually after that. ‘Probationary’ or new employees, or those who are new and in a trial period, should be evaluated frequently—perhaps weekly for the first month and monthly thereafter until the end of the introductory period for new employees. After that, annual reviews may be sufficient.

Some managers prefer to meet with their employees more frequently. Some companies in high-technology fields are promising accelerated appraisals— six months instead of a year—so that employees receive more frequent raises. The result for some companies has been a reduction in turnover among these very turnover-prone employees.

A regular time interval is a feature of formal, systematic appraisals that distinguishes them from informal appraisals. Both employees and managers are aware that performance will be reviewed on a regular basis and they can plan for performance discussions. In addition, informal appraisals should be conducted whenever a manager feels they are desirable.

Should We Talk About Pay As Well?

Many experts say that the timing of performance appraisals and pay discussions should be different. The major reason for this view is that employees often focus more on the pay amount than on what they have done well or need to improve. Sometimes managers may manipulate performance appraisal ratings to justify the desired pay treatment for a given individual.

However you carry out appraisals – whether informally or formally – take some time to think about the pros and cons of the different options. This will help you implement the best process for the development of your business and your employees.

Family Matters in Your Business

Many of the recent Employment Law changes have focused on family matters. There are more to come in 2015, so it’s important that you are prepared and know how they might affect your business. Many changes relate to the families of your members of staff. While you might not think you’re directly involved, you could be and you need to know how to handle each situation.

Here are some examples: 

2015 Childcare Scheme. From this autumn, almost 2 million families will be able to make use of the tax-free childcare scheme announced in the last Budget. Eligible families will be able to claim a 20% rebate on their childcare costs up to £2,000 per child. How could this affect your business? Research shows that nearly a quarter of employed mothers would increase their working hours if they could arrange good quality childcare. This could be a good thing for your business, but not every family is eligible and some could end up worse off. Some might need to reduce their working hours, which might not suit your business.

Flexible Working. In the past, only parents with children under the age of 17 and carers could apply for flexible working. Now employees who are not caring for others have the right to make a request and as the employer, you must deal with these requests in a reasonable manner. This means you can no longer only expect your employees with children to request flexible working. Now you need to be prepared in case any of your employees makes the request. Do you know how you would deal with these matters?

Time Off for Dependants. All employees have the right to time off during working hours, to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies relating to dependants. This is unpaid leave, unless you’re willing to give paid time off. Employees have a right to a reasonable amount of time off – usually 1-2hours rather than days – to deal with emergencies involving a spouse, partner, child, parent or an elderly neighbour. Leave can be taken to deal with a breakdown in childcare, to put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives, if a dependant falls ill or is taken into hospital or to arrange or attend a funeral. Do you have a plan in place to deal with employees needing to take time off at short notice?

Shared Parental Leave. In the past, mothers could take 52 weeks of maternity leave and receive 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay. Now they can decide to share the leave with their partner. This means that if you are the employer of the partner, you could still find yourself having to give them parental leave, if the mother decides to go back to work early. To make sure your business is prepared for this, know how many of your key members of staff this could affect. Having a contingency plan for what it could cost you.

Antenatal Rights. Pregnant mothers are entitled to time off for antenatal appointments. In addition, partners of mothers-to-be can now take unpaid time off work to go with her to two of these appointments. While you might not have any expectant members of staff, think about the impact on your business of losing a key member of staff for a day – the partner. Can you still hold a Board Meeting with one of your Directors absent?

There have been a number of recent Employment Law changes affecting family matters. However, there are many other legal requirements that you need to be aware of, relating to your employees and their families. For more information the Acas website is always a good place to start.

Employment Law Update Workshop

On 21 May 2015 we’ll be spending the morning at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, going through the latest changes to Employment Law. For individual help with your business and your employees, book your place on the workshop. We’ll talk about how the changes will specifically impact on your business. Click here to book your place for just £15 +VAT.

One of the attendees at a recent workshop said “I thought the workshop would be full of other HR people who knew more than me – but it wasn’t like that at all. I learnt a great deal from the Employment Law update and it was really useful talking to other people to hear how they dealt with similar issues to me.”

Employment Law Changes for Spring 2015

Employment Law is constantly changing. To make sure you stay on the right side of the law, and do the right thing by your employees, here are some of the issues you need to know about.

Shared Parental Leave – this will allow eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption. Employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. If she chooses, an eligible mother can end her maternity leave early and, with her partner or the child’s father, opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. If they both meet the qualifying requirements, they will need to decide how they want to divide their Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement.

Antenatal Rights – from 1 October 2014, the partner of a pregnant woman has been allowed to take unpaid time off work to attend antenatal appointments with her. Partners are allowed time off for up to two antenatal appointments, capped at 6.5 hours per appointment. Confusion might arise because in some cases, the partner might not be the biological father of the child. They could be the mother’s spouse, civil partner, or partner in an enduring relationship. It could also be the parents of a child in a surrogacy arrangement.

Fit for Work – this service helps employees stay in, or return to work. It provides an occupational health assessment and general health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs. It will not replace, but will complement existing occupational health services provided by employers. There will be a phased roll out of the referral service taking place over a period of months during 2015.

Every time a change is made to Employment Law, your Staff Handbook will become out of date. You don’t need to update it every month, but you do need to be aware of the legal changes and how they affect your employees and your business. If your Handbook has not been updated for a couple of years, it’s best to get up to date information on any specific issue, before you take action.

To help keep your business up to date, book your place on our next Employment Law Update Workshop. On 21 May 2015 we’ll be spending the morning at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, going through the changes. We’ll talk about how they will specifically impact on your business and what you need to be aware of, in order to stay on the right side of the law. Click here to book your place for just £15 +VAT.

Holiday Pay Judgment: What Does it Mean for Your Business?

On 4 November 2014, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) handed down its decision in three significant employment cases. It is a ground-breaking decision which gives some clarity to various European Judgments on the issue.

The key points to take from the decision are that:

  1. Holiday pay should be equivalent to a worker’s “normal” pay. What is “normal” depends on whether the payment in question has been made for a sufficient period of time to justify the label of being “normal” (the regularity / pattern of payments will be relevant in making this decision).
  2. Overtime which a worker is not permitted to refuse (i.e. guaranteed and non-guaranteed overtime) must count as part of their “normal” pay when calculating the pay they should receive on holiday.
  3. The Working Time Regulations which transposed the European Working Time Directive into UK law is incompatible with the Directive, but can be interpreted so as to give effect to these changes.
  4. The vast majority of workers will only be able to recover underpayments in the last three months.

However, there are various intricacies which employers need to appreciate:

  1. The Judgment only applies in respect to the 20 days’ annual leave guaranteed under the Working Time Directive, not the additional 8 days’ leave which is a purely domestic-driven right, set out in the Working Time Regulations. As such, workers can expect to receive a higher rate of holiday pay (that which includes overtime, commissions and various other payments) for 20 out of their 28-days’ holiday per year, with the remaining 8 days being paid at the level it previously was, unless their employer decides to pay all 28 days at the higher level.
  2. Where workers’ previous periods of holiday are separated by a gap of less than 3 months, they may be able to recover underpayments for a longer period than the 3-month limit set out above, by arguing that the underpayments form part of a “series”. Even in those cases however, it is unlikely that they will be able to go back in time to recover underpaid holiday for more than one holiday year.
  3. There is no definitive statement in the Judgment to confirm that purely voluntary overtime (that which the employer is not obliged to offer and the worker is not obliged to accept) would also be included. However, comments in the Judgment and the underlying ethos of the various European decisions could be said to lean towards the view that voluntary overtime which is regularly worked by a worker would count as part of their “normal” pay and hence should be included when calculating holiday pay.
  4. Whilst the domestic 12-week reference period for calculating average pay might be maintained going forward, there could be a change to this (brought about through case law or legislative change) due to the fact that some workers’ pay is highly variable throughout the year and a 12-week snapshot could be misleading depending on the 12-week period captured. For example, a retail worker who does far more overtime during certain periods (perhaps Christmas) would have a far higher average number of hours as their “normal pay” if they took leave in January. Similarly, a salesperson who takes leave shortly after an unusually large commission payment could receive inflated holiday pay which is not representative of “normal pay”. In such cases, a longer period may be necessary and justified. In one of the Opinions of an Advocate General, it was suggested that a 12-month reference period might be appropriate. This is not binding however, and we shall have to wait and see how this issue is resolved.

As a result of this Judgment and other employment cases we can now say with some confidence that the following elements of a worker’s pay should count when calculating their first 20 days’ statutory holiday in a holiday year:

  • Commission payments
  • Guaranteed and non-guaranteed overtime that is regularly worked
  • Incentive bonuses
  • Travel time payments (not expenses, but payments for the time spent travelling)
  • Shift premia
  • Seniority payments (payments linked to qualifications/grade/experience)
  • Stand-by payments
  • Certain other payments (such as “flying pay” and “time away pay” provided such payments are not expenses).

In Conclusion

The recent EAT decision will give some comfort to businesses that feared potential back-payments for 16 years’ holiday entitlements by their workforce. However, you must now resolve past liabilities and start paying correctly going forward. This will increase your operating costs. It is estimated to be approximately a 3-5% increase on payroll. The parties have been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, so the position on this issue may yet change.

Are You Ready for Pension Auto Enrolment? Part Two

Are You Ready for Pension Auto Enrolment? Part Two

All businesses will soon have to provide a pension for their staff. The start date depends on the size of your business. But there’s a lot more to think about than just the date. Last month we brought you five tips to consider (click here to read that blog) and here are five more:

Existing joining methods may be fit for purpose. Many employers believe they will need to change the way they currently join employees to their pension scheme. However, your existing method and processes for joining may already be suitable. For example, if your employees already join the pension scheme via their contract of employment, then there may be no need to introduce a different method. This can also allow all staff to be treated the same way, regardless of their age or income. But it’s likely to mean changing processes and potentially employment contracts, to meet the new legal requirements.

Use waiting periods to fit your business. The majority of employers have used waiting periods aligned with payroll so employees join on the first day of the pay reference period. This avoids having to calculate, explain and manage part payments. But it is also possible to build in a waiting period to avoid one off events such as bonus payments or seasonal increases. Or to allow time to organise contract joining before the auto-enrolment duty kicks-in. But remember while employers can delay assessment and auto-enrolment, they cannot delay the statutory communications to their employees.

Communicate with employees early. Engaging with your employees and clearly communicating the changes in advance of auto-enrolment will make sure that when it happens, they understand why money is being deducted from their pay. This will also ensure they appreciate the value your contribution is adding while reducing employee questions.

Review existing default investment funds. You have a regulatory responsibility to make sure the auto-enrolment default investment option is suitable for your employees that will be enrolled to the scheme. Existing investment solutions may not be appropriate. Advice is crucial to getting this right. You also have a responsibility to have an on-going investment governance framework in place.

Remember to register with the Pensions Regulator. You must register your scheme with the Pensions Regulator within four months of your staging date. Details must be given of your qualifying workplace pension scheme and how you have gone about enrolling employees to the scheme.


There is a lot to think about and do when it comes to setting up your company pension. These five tips, combined with the five we gave you last month, give you a good starting point. In the meantime, if you have any questions about pensions, do get in touch.