PracticeAccounting FirmsEmployee benefits: fathers’ rights

Employee benefits: fathers' rights

Harriet Harman recently said that men should be encouraged to apply for flexible working. The deputy leader of the labour party said that most fathers don’t know how to take advantage of their rights and many men find it difficult to ask their employer to work flexibly

The firm’s view

The responsibility for childcare is changing and this is causing
organisations to ensure flexible working policies support men and women.

This means creating environments where both genders feel comfortable with
working flexibly and work flexibility is becoming increasingly more of an area
for men.

Companies need to help remove the stigma for men regarding flexible working.
In some firms, working flexible hours has traditionally been seen as something
that women do, often when they return to work after having a child.

It is also seen by some colleagues of those working flexibly as a sign of
lack of commitment to the team and as perhaps a chance not to be pulling a fair
weight. As an employer it is important to ensure that these attitudes are
outdated and that working flexibly is deemed thoroughly acceptable when treated
responsibly by employees.

It has only been in the last decade that the state has recognised and allowed
statutory paternity leave. Attitudes within the workplace have now accepted and
absorbed this.

Family responsibilities however, particularly where young children are
involved, are permanent, and this means that employers need to pay greater
attention to employees’ life changes in order to continue to get the best
results from their staff.

There has been an increasing shift toward men wanting to spend more time with
their young children. It is important therefore as an employer to try to
accommodate this in a way which works for both the firm and the staff member

It has always been the responsibility of employers to go out of their way to
retain good talent, the core of most good businesses. If an employee is feeling
constrained in terms of work / life balance then it is now far more common and
acceptable for them to move to a more comfortable working environment.

It is important for companies to acknowledge that raising young children is a
responsibility men are taking a changing role in; as such it is only good
business to make sure that employees can continue to feel satisfied with the
right manner of working flexibility and work/life balance.

The benefit to the business is that it retains motivated and committed staff,
the benefit to the employee is that they can spend more time with their family ­
overall a win-win situation.

Daniel Kasmir, partner and head of HR at BDO Stoy

The campaigner’s view

Fathers are rarely able to work flexibly, because our work culture specifies
that ‘real’ commitment to work is expressed by being ‘full-time’ – defined as 40
hours a week for or the equivalent of a fifth of a year. Work systems are built
on this principle and work cultures require it.

To seek a variation of this traditional norm is to demonstrate compromise and
to invite being penalised – less promotion, less on the inside track, less pay,
etc. Women who have children cannot avoid this compromise and they pay heavily
for it – it is the biggest (but not the only) driver of the pay gap between men
and women. And that makes it even more difficult for men – if mum has suffered a
set-back at work, dad really cannot afford to do so.

Managers can help by creating work systems and cultures where flexible work
really works for everyone – no reasons need to be given by employees for working

Senior managers must work flexibly too – whatever senior managers do is what
everyone else will feel they have to do to progress upwards, whatever else is
said. Flexible working improves productivity and work satisfaction because
having time is almost as high a priority for people these days as having money.

This arrangement eliminates discrimination against anyone who cannot avoid
having to work flexibly for whatever reason (e.g. mothers, carers of elderly rel
atives),and it protects particularly against discrimination against women, who
are known to have to compromise work for babies – this applies to mothers and to
any woman that might become a mother in the future.

Men and babies are a special case, because the expectation that mums will
take time off for a baby, and not dads, is a key problem.

Employers can do a range of things to make it acceptable at work for a man to
admit to being an engaged father. Time off for anti-natal appointments, good pay
for paternity leave, extended paternity leave, encouragement to take up flexible
working, or the employer to pay something towards parental leave (currently
unpaid by the state). And so on.

Dad Info Ltd ( is working with a number of employers (Lloyds and
BT are the first two) to provide information to fathers in the workplace when
they register for paternity leave.

The aim is to communicate to fathers that it is ‘OK’ to be a father in those
workplaces – these employers celebrate it and provide specific support to
fathers. The aim of these employers is to make both fathers and mothers happier
and more likely to stay working.

Duncan Fisher, chief executive of the Fatherhood

The lawyer’s view

Men have the same right to apply for flexible working as women. Although
there is no absolute right to work flexibly, statute gives eligible employees
(including fathers of children aged under six, or 18 if the child is disabled)
the right to request flexible working. Men also have the right to two weeks’
paternity leave and the right to 13 weeks’ unpaid parental leave.

In practice, statistics show that far fewer men work flexibly than women.
Working flexibly is seen by many male professionals as career-limiting. It is
also often difficult for men to work part-time and take a cut in pay if they are
the primary breadwinner. In November 2007 the government announced that it
intends to extend the right to request flexible working to parents with older
children. An independent review is being carried out to assess how to extend the
right. Potentially both mothers and fathers of older children would then have
the right to request flexible working.

However, the business secretary, John Hutton, warned that the government
wants to ‘avoid a situation where employers are so overwhelmed with requests
from newly-eligible groups that they feel they have to say no to everyone.’

In the meantime, employers are advised to take seriously any flexible working
requests they receive from male employees. This is particularly important given
there is evidence to show some employers are more likely to turn down requests
from men.

If an employer refuses an application from a man or fails to consider it
properly and the man can show that the same request by a woman would have been
granted or treated seriously, then the man can bring a claim for direct sex

As part of the benefits package, employers are also advised to put in place
policies to support men with children, particularly as such policies can aid
retention and productivity.

Kerry Garcia, senior associate, and Frances
, associate, Stevens & Bolton

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