Family Friendly

By at home

Make your business family friendly Sell: If you help your employees to balance work and home, you’ll attract the best staff and keep them loyal and motivated.

Mark has just returned from six weeks’ parental leave, which he spent with his wife and young children in Australia, and since returning to his job in sales his enthusiasm has increased and he has been the company’s top salesman for the past four weeks.

‘It really recharged my batteries,’ he says. ‘Before going away with the family I felt my two daughters were growing up so fast that I was missing out. I started resenting going to work.

‘I’d think about them throughout the day. I’d think: "I wonder if Charlotte has started crawling yet. If I close this sale quickly now I may get home in time to put them to bed." My mind really wasn’t on my work.

‘But taking time to spend with my family, away from the stresses of everyday life, gave me such a boost. It strengthened my bond with my wife and the girls so that when I returned to work I was eager to get back while being content that my relationship with my family had been cemented.’

If you make your workplace family friendly, you’ll be surprised at the benefits it offers your company. For starters, it can mean that you’ve got more good people to choose from when it comes to finding staff. The UK workforce is shrinking, as there are fewer school and college leavers, so you need to offer competitive rates to attract the best staff. Helping those with children find good-quality and affordable childcare, or allowing them to spend time with their families, can attract more people to your company, where you can make the most of their skills.

Having child-friendly policies can also: * reduce the amount of time your employees take off sick due to the stress of sorting out childcare problems* increase productivity – when employees don’t have to worry about their children they can concentrate on their job * raise your retention rates and therefore reduce recruitment costs

[xhead] Be child friendly Childcare isn’t cheap, and it could be the one factor that stops a good employee returning to work after they’ve had children. Helping both male and female employees cover the costs of childcare can encourage them to stay with you, saving you recruitment and training costs.

You could consider adding a certain amount to an employee’s pay to help with childcare costs or buy into a commercial service such as Childcare Vouchers, which are redeemable at nursery chains. If you can’t afford to add this on to an employee’s existing salary, you could offer to substitute a portion of their current salary, or other benefits, in exchange for nursery vouchers.

Nursery vouchers up to £50 a week are exempt from tax and National Insurance, so your employee will take home more of his or her pay. Anemployee with a gross annual salary of £15,000 and annual childcarecosts of £4,800, for example, could save more than £500 a year in this scheme.

Another way to help reduce childcare costs and the hassle of finding a childcare place is to buy or reserve a certain amount of places for your employees at existing nurseries or playgroups. For parents with older children, you could offer to help pay for children to attend holiday or after-school clubs, and thereby tackle the problem of parents all needing to take their breaks during school holiday time or having to leave mid-afternoon to collect children from school.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to help your staff with childcareis to provide information – about their eligibility for governmental help with childcare costs, for example. All children aged three or four are entitled to free education at a registered provider. This offers five sessions a week, two-and-a-half hours per day, for three terms each year. It can help reduce your employees’ childcare costs, so make sure they know about it. Their local Children’s Information Service (0800 096 0296; www.childrensinformationservice.org.uk) can advise them on availability in their area.

If an employee has a family income of £58,000 or less per year (£66,000 a year if they have a child under a year old), they may qualify for the Child Tax Credit (CTC). This is paid directly into their bank account and can be worth several thousand pounds a year.

If a member of your staff is on a low or middle income and they work at least 16 hours a week, they may qualify for childcare support through the Working Tax Credit (WTC). This monthly payment is worth 70 per cent of their childcare costs, up to:* £94.50 a week for families with one child in childcare* £140 a week for families with two or more children in childcare

For details of both tax credits, your employee should contact their local Inland Revenue office (www.taxcredits.inlandrevenue.gov.uk).

Parental leave Any employee who has worked for you for at least a year, and has children, is eligible for parental leave. Employees with a shorter length of service may be eligible too, if they’ve completed one year’s continuous service with another employer and have a child born before 14 December 1999.

They can take 13 weeks’ unpaid leave in total for each child, and are able to take their leave in short or long blocks, depending on what has been agreed with you. As long as they give you proper notice, they can take leave any time until their child’s fifth birthday.

Your employees also have the right to take time off work to deal with a family emergency.

[xhead] Flexible workingAllowing flexible working can give your company the edge – recent research shows that more than 70 per cent of working people find the idea of flexible working attractive.

The term ‘flexible working’ includes flexitime or part-time, job-sharing or home-working, sabbaticals and compressed hours, and can be introduced on a permanent or temporary basis. While no employee has an absolute right to work reduced or non-standard hours to accommodate family responsibilities, employers must consider requests for such arrangements seriously.

Under the Employment Act 2002, if an employee has worked for you for at least 26 weeks and they’re a parent of a child under six, or a disabled child under 18, they have the right to make one application in any 12-month period to request flexible working, which means a change to the total hours or times they work, or a request to work from home. And you have an obligation to take that request seriously.

[xhead] Maternity leave How you treat pregnant employees may help you attract and retain staff. It can also have a bearing on whether an employee returns to work, bringing their experience and skills back to your company.

Under health and safety legislation, you must ensure that the type of work and working conditions for a pregnant woman, or woman who has given birth in the previous six months or is breastfeeding, will not put her or her baby’s health at risk.

* The basics By law, you must give all pregnant employees at least 26 weeks’ maternity leave (called Ordinary Maternity Leave) regardless of how long they’ve been employed by you or the amount of hours they work. It can be started any time from 11 weeks before the expected date of the baby’s birth until the actual birth date.

Employees who have 26 weeks’ continuous service (by the time they are 15 weeks away from the date their baby is due) are entitled to an additional 26 weeks’ leave, carrying on from the end of their ordinarymaternity leave – which makes 52 weeks in total.

During this time, all normal contractual entitlements (pension and holiday entitlements, for example) must be maintained, apart from theirsalary – see below for wage details.

At the end of the 26-week period your employee must be allowed to return to her old job. Also, all pregnant women are entitled to time off for antenatal care, such as parentcraft classes and GP appointments.

You will have to pay Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) if your employee has been employed by you for 26 weeks by the time she is 15 weeks from the expected date of her baby’s birth, and she has earned on average morethan the lower earnings limit (currently £79) in the last eight of those 26 weeks. If she hasn’t, she may be eligible for Maternity Allowance, paid by her local benefits agency. Get her to call the helpline on 0800 013 0313 for more information.

The minimum amount of SMP you need to pay for the first six weeks is 90 per cent of her average earnings. For the remaining 20 weeks you pay aflat fee set by the Government (currently £102.80 for 2004/05). NI and PAYE deductions are made on these payments. For further information, contact the Inland Revenue Employers’ Helpline on 0845 714 3143.

* Your costs You can reclaim 92 per cent of the SMP from the Government through the NI/PAYE system. If you’re a small business (with annual NationalInsurance contributions below £40,000), you can get 100 per cent, plus an extra 4.5 per cent ‘compensation’.

* The extras Many companies offer their own, more generous, maternity packages, which give longer periods of maternity leave and higher levels of maternity pay, which can be very effective in attracting and retaining staff. Some companies link company maternity pay to minimum return to work requirements, where employees get extra money for returning to work after having a baby and staying for a specified amount of time.

Paternity leave and pay

Many companies are waking up to the realisation that fathers want to spend time with their families when a new child has arrived.

* The basics Any of your employees will be entitled to paternity leave and pay if they have worked for you continuously for 26 weeks (ending with the 15th week before the baby is due) and they: are a child’s biological father, or the mother’s husband or partner have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child’s upbringing are adopting a child and not taking Statutory Adoption Leave (SAL)

It’s not only men who are entitled to paternity leave and pay. You may get requests from mothers where the father is taking Statutory Adoption Leave, or from women in same-sex relationships.

Leave starts from the day the child is born or from a chosen number of days or weeks after that date. Leave must be taken within 56 days of the birth.

The rate of Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is the same as the standard rate of maternity pay (90 per cent of your employee’s average earnings), and is payable by you in line with the way your employee wants to take their leave. If your employee has average weekly earnings below the Lower Earnings Limit for National Insurance purposes, they don’t qualify for SPP but may be eligible for Income Support. Additional money may also be available to them through Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Tax Credits or a Sure Start Maternity Grant. Their local Jobcentre Plus or Social Security offices will have more details.

* Your costs You can claim back 92 per cent of the SPP payments your company makes, or if you’re eligible for small employers’ relief, you can claim back 100 per cent, plus an additional 4.5 per cent compensation. Advance funding is also available for companies who need it, so contact the Inland Revenue for details.

* The extras Plenty of companies offer improved paternity packages, which allow longer periods of leave and pay 100 per cent of an employee’s wages. You may want to consider that, or if you already have a contractual paternity leave and pay scheme, you could think about using the savings from the introduction of SPP to extend the paid paternity leave period or to introduce a childcare allowance (see the Childcare Help section above).

It may also be good practice to inform employees who are going on maternity leave that their partners may be entitled to paternity leave. If your employees are keen to extend their paternity leave, you could discuss the possibility of them using their holiday entitlement or parental leave to do this.

For more information* Acas – 08457 474747; www.acas.org.uk/faqs/parents.html. For your obligations as an employer* Working Families – 020 7253 7243; www.workingfamilies.org.uk. Charity promoting the adoption of child-friendly working practices. Plenty of advice and info on parents in the workplace

"Business is a combination of war and sport." (Andre Maurois)

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