NEW PARENTAL LEAVE RULES HARM SMES

ENTREPRENEUR

I AM not anti-parental leave, but as the owner of a successful international business and the mother of three, I feel more entitled than most to say that Nick Clegg’s proposals for shared parental leave are unworkable for small and medium-sized businesses (SME).

My view may seem drastic but my business started off small and at that stage every single member of staff made a huge impact on the running of the business.

When there were just a few of us, each employee – not least myself as the owner – was vital to the business’s success. For this reason, I was back at work four days after I had my first child. One week after my second and three weeks for my third. It would have risked the business’s success had I stayed at home longer.

Granted I was fortunate that I could take my baby into work and breastfeed there. And I admit, this might not work for everyone, but I would have been happy to have any of my employees do the same.

CRIPPLING FOR SMALL BUSINESS
The truth is, maternity leave – and now paternity leave – can be crippling for small businesses. The potential for disruption is huge and it is absurd that the same rules apply to small businesses as large ones.

Take the case of a friend of mine who runs a company of six people. She fell pregnant at the same time as two of her employees and that meant 50 per cent of the workforce were out of action. The workload then had to be shared amongst the other employees.

The problems start with holding the job vacancy open for the new mother while she decides whether or not to return to work. This makes life very difficult because it’s close to impossible to find adequate maternity cover. Short-term replacements are never able to do the job to the same standard. Not to mention the added expense of temporary staff that are costly for a small business to source and maintain.

MORE COMPLICATED
And now it is about to get more complicated: the plans outlined this week give parents the right to share the leave, potentially dividing the full 10-month entitlement into chunks between them.

While it’s not unreasonable for new dads to get some time off, the truth is there’s only so much that a man can do in the early stages, and for small businesses, having any employee taking chunks of time off is both impractical and impossible to plan cover around.

ADDING ANOTHER HURDLE
The proposal merely adds another hurdle for those thinking of setting up their own business and discourages those already running one from taking on more staff.

It’s an illogical step to take at a time when the government should be making small businesses lives easier. After all, small businesses are supposed to be the job creators that are going to stimulate growth and deliver the economic recovery.

Lara Morgan is the founder of Company Shortcut and Pacific Direct.

Agree with Lara Morgan? We welcome debate. Do you have a strong view on small business and entrepreneurship in the UK? Email donata.huggins@cityam.com