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People Matter July 2017

How family friendly are you?

Most parents will tell you that it can be a struggle when it comes to balancing work and family life. The school run, unexpected sickness, sleepless nights and costs…lots and lots of costs. Many companies are now beginning to realise the importance of supporting employees who have children.

Tech giant Google is well-known for its pioneering work culture, and its Mountain View campus in California boasts four childcare centres. Facebook offer free meals and a free laundry service, alongside $4,000 ‘baby cash’ given to employees with new-borns. The company also subsidises the cost of childcare and provides help with adoption costs.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of bad practice too – both through ignorance and deliberate acts. Such actions are very likely to see employers fall on the wrong side of a tribunal judgement. For example, you should never assume that pregnant women want to immediately be taken off big accounts or that they will no longer want to travel for work. Even if your intentions are positive, this is a form of discrimination. And that’s before we even talk about more overt discrimination like bullying or forced redundancy.

It’s not always easy for SMEs, but providing parenthood perks can be beneficial to you as an employer too. If you want to recruit and retain talented staff, they can be can be a major attraction, as well as enhancing your reputation. Whatever you do, it’s important to ensure that you give benefits equally – extending them to adoptive parents and same-sex couples too for instance.

Contact The HR Dept for expert advice on family benefits.

Time off for dependant leave 

All male and female staff have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with dependant emergencies. But this is not time to stay at home waiting for deliveries or service engineers. It is unpaid time to deal with emergency situations.

For example, when childcare arrangements break down, a dependant is taken to hospital, or putting care in place for elderly relatives. The key phrase here is ‘reasonable time’. This should usually be one or two days to enable other arrangements to be made. Not time off – a whole two weeks of chicken pox and the like.

You must ensure your policy clarifies this and that it states staff must ring you as early as possible, explaining what the problem is, and how long they plan to be away. This should not be a regular occurrence. If it is, particularly during school holidays, ask The HR Dept for help managing it.

It’s raining babies

Count back nine months from September and October, and you may not be surprised to find that those autumn months are when most babies arrive. The cold, dark nights of the previous winter, the Christmas parties and all that!

We’re only a couple of months out from that period now, so are you managing any expectant mothers correctly? It’s essential to maintain communication with employees on maternity leave, be aware of contractual benefits, and know the appropriate pay rates.Are any of your staff pregnant right now? If so, The HR Dept are here to advise.

How does adoption leave and pay differ from maternity leave and pay?  

A survey by Slater Gordon showed that 40% of managers try to avoid recruiting women of childbearing age because of fear of them having children.Well, we hate to break it to them, but not only is that illegal, but nowadays any member of staff could opt to become an adoptive parent. They would thereby have the equivalent rights that are given to employees through pregnancy and maternity.  Under the Adoption Act of 2010, same-sex adoption was approved and this enabled same sex couples to jointly adopt children and stepchildren.

For adoptive couples, as it stands only the mother is entitled to adoptive leave from employment, except where the male is the adopter. Prospective adopters must go through a rigorous assessment and training process before they are approved to be capable of parenting a child. Don’t you wish, when watching hopeless parents trying to manage unruly kids, everyone had to do the same?  To accommodate these training and approval panel days, primary adopters are entitled to paid time off work for this period before the child arrives.

This period is likely to be an emotional rollercoaster, particularly once approved parents start searching for the right child – therefore, your support will be essential.

Although you get longer to know about the plans with adoption, there is uncertainty about the actual time when it will happen. This can make it difficult to plan for. Once approved, it can take a year or even longer to be matched. The key here is to keep communication lines open so that you’re aware of the stage they’re at.

After the employee has been matched with a child, they have four weeks to inform you that they intend to take leave. They are entitled to 24 weeks’ adoption leave. So, as with maternity leave, there are several technical things to get right as an employer, as well as a benefit in being able to manage such situations with emotional intelligence.

For help and advice, call The HR Dept.

Shared parental leave 

There has been talk of introducing shared parental leave in Ireland for some time. Now, it seems that the talking is about to stop. There are two schemes expected to be introduced in September that will give new parents up to four additional weeks of parental leave.

The first is two weeks’ paid parental leave for fathers. This is likely to be complemented with an extra two weeks of parental leave available to either parent. This falls short of the full year that has been suggested, and the 50 weeks’ shared parental leave that was introduced in the UK in 2015. But is that a bad thing? Take up of the UK scheme has been low. It’s complicated, tends to be less financially beneficial to parents and probably suffers from cultural headwinds. Maybe a smaller scale scheme in Ireland will be more workable.

Dismissal for Pregnancy

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) recently awarded €5,179 to a beauty therapist who was dismissed after informing her employer she was pregnant.€4,000 of the payment was attributed to the discrimination the woman experienced, whilst the remainder was for factors like holiday pay. Unpleasant detail emerged during the case, including an allegation that the manager’s daughter told the employee that her pregnancy was “her own problem”.

Under Irish employment law, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of pregnancy. This case illustrates that perpetrators will be punished by the WRC. Whilst the pay-out was relatively small, it should be noted that the company went out of business shortly afterwards, showing that such penalties hit employers where it hurts.

For advice on managing employees through pregnancy correctly, call The HR Dept.

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