Last month the Squire Patton Boggs Labour & Employment team issued a survey to over 3,000 UK clients and contacts of different sizes and industry sectors in relation to the arrival of the SPL Regulations next month. By way of context, the Regulations have been widely criticised among employers and legal commentators as grossly over-engineered and almost unusable in practice. It is impossible to avoid a faint suspicion that this is a deliberate Government ploy to unite employer and employee through a common enemy to the point where leave arrangements are agreed in dialogue between the parties without reference to the detail of the Regulations at all, since that is a process almost guaranteed to end in tears. We have also heard outwith the survey that some of the larger City employers are seeking to sidestep the procedural minefield represented by the Regulations by providing fathers/partners with benefits comparable to full maternity leave (including enhancements). All well and good for employers which can afford it, of course, but probably not an approach which will be widely adopted.

Pending fuller publication elsewhere, here is a sneak preview of the results of our survey:

Impressively, over 50% of employers claim to be “quite prepared” for the new Regulations. We must however wait to see whether “quite prepared” means (i) we have a policy and some template forms lifted from the internet; or (ii) we actually understand how this will work in practice (see below). Only 17% claim to be “very prepared”, even though the Regulations will bite in earnest in scarcely a week. Over a quarter of the respondents were either not very prepared or not prepared at all.

Of course, this may be a function of the very limited usage which most of the survey respondents seem to anticipate for the SPL regime. It is impossible to avoid the tsunami of employer indifference to the Regulations evident from the survey results:

Only 6% of employers consider that the Regulations will have a material adverse impact on their business, the others falling somewhere between a little impact and none at all. Less than 4% saw SPL as helping retain talent in the workforce which would otherwise have been lost to childcare responsibilities. Nearly two-thirds of respondents thought that 5% or less of their male workforce would take SPL, while 50% thought a similarly tiny proportion of their women would do so. In very bad news for circling lawyers, over three-quarters of employers believed that there would not be a material increase in the number of Tribunal claims, and a whopping 90% that there would not even be any significant growth in employee grievances. All very disappointing.

However, that contrasts starkly with the results for the question on the respondents’ biggest concern regarding the new Regulations. These point clearly to trouble ahead. Over a half said that their main anxiety was simply trying to understand the Regulations and how they might be introduced at work at all, while over a third feared the impact on workflow management of prolonged or discontinuous absences. Maybe they could gain some assistance on both counts from the Acas Guidance to the Regulations – 55% found it either very or moderately useful, but a full third of employers surveyed had not read it at all. Here it is http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4911. If in doubt, you should have a look at it – while it does not go into the same hideous layers of detail and sub-detail as the Regulations themselves, it will be a more than decent touchstone in most ordinary cases.

Last, what of making the best of a bad job and turning SPL into a positive for your workforce through some form of enhancement? 17% of employers are working on this already, with nearly a further 50% not ruling it out in due course. Where opinion is much more evenly split is in relation to offering an inducement to return from shared parental leave akin to that often offered to women to return from maternity leave. 24% either will or probably will. 26% think probably not, 26% are sure not, and 24% have not yet decided. Even of those proposing to enhance SPL pay, however, well under a half intend to make an active positive of this in their recruitment efforts.