Firms attack changes to paternity law

Julian Harris
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DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg was accused of risking a bureaucratic nightmare yesterday, after outlining plans to expand impending paternity leave regulations.

Clegg wants to “transform” paternity leave so that fathers can take regular chunks of their wives’ or partners’ maternity leave – yet the policy was attacked as unworkable by business groups and employment lawyers.

“This will be nightmare for employers,” said Anthony Fincham of law firm CMS Cameron McKenna. “Without becoming unacceptably intrusive, how will even sophisticated HR functions be able to police the division of parental leave?”

The coalition is pushing through the former Labour government’s paternity leave regulations, which come into force from April and enable a mother to transfer six months of her maternity leave to the child’s father.

“Of course there may be cases where the identity of the father is disputed,” McKenna added.

Clegg wants couples to be able to swap chunks of their entitlement with each other during their child’s first year,

“Business is not against the principle of shared parental leave, but this is too difficult for small businesses to deal with, and could prevent them from taking on staff,” said David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

“The problem with chopping and changing is that companies will struggle to put a replacement in place,” said employment lawyer Adrian Crawford of Kingsley Napley.

As statutory payment is capped at £130 a week, most parents will try to keep the better paid half of the couple at work, Crawford explained.

“It’s notable that Nick Clegg is married to a very well paid prominent lawyer,” Crawford quipped.

The government has promised to consult widely, with a view to introducing the extra measures in 2015.