UK Politics

Parental leave: Your stories

The government has confirmed that it is pressing ahead with plans to allow couples to share maternity leave from April.

The idea, which was originally devised by the previous Labour government, would allow fathers to use any remaining unpaid leave - for up to a maximum of six months, if their partner decided to return to work.

While the move has the support of many BBC News website readers, there are plenty of others who say the government has not considered the consequences for small business owners.

Ryan McConnell, Lisburn, parent

I welcome any moves that allow a father to spend more time with his young children... who wouldn't?

Image caption Ryan McConnell and his wife Sarah were grateful for the time they could spend with newborn Ronan

My son Ronan will be in two in March and I am so glad I got to spend his first three weeks with him.

My employers were very generous and gave me the option of two weeks' leave. I had two weeks on full pay and then I took an additional week on annual leave.

My wife Sarah and I were tired and it took us all that time to get up to speed.

We were living in a flat and trying to move house when Ronan was born so having that time together with him was brilliant.

It was good to catch Ronan's first giggles and see him growing.

He was diagnosed with a congenital hip problem when he was born and, of course, Sarah was emotional - it was hard to see your baby wearing an ugly harness. But I was able to be there to support her - so I appreciated that time.

However, I don't know how these plans will work when both parents are employed by different employers who may offer differing maternity or paternity schemes above and beyond the statutory programme.

Nick Evans and Gabrielle Hadley, Eccleshall, small business owners

Image caption Gabrielle Hadley says her company is her baby

As co-directors in a small business employing two other people, we are watching this impending slew of legislation with growing concern.

If one of our employees went on maternity or paternity leave for months on end, the impact on our business would be devastating.

A larger company can absorb the costs but we can't. We are a web marketing company and we have specialist people carrying out specialist tasks. It takes time to train people and we feel the absence of our workers.

If they go on paternity leave then it becomes a period of uncertainty - for the person who is on leave as they don't know how long they will take, for the person we would have to hire on a temporary contract and for the business itself. Everyone will be living in limbo.

There is nothing politically correct you can say that will be an acceptable solution. There are two type of people affected - those who are employers and those who are employed, and, of course, their interests will differ.

As an employer we will take a big hit, and while we respect people's right to have children, we also have a right to have continuity in our business.

The impact of half our staff suddenly disappearing for maternity or paternity leave for up to six months, even with the support as outlined, is high.

For many business owners, their company is like their baby - is the government going to help in the same way?

Neil Hunter, Brighton, parent

I have three children - an eight-month-old, a two-year-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old.

Image caption Neil Hunter believes parental leave should be paid

I think, in recent years, the rights of fathers have been disregarded, especially when it comes to the crucial period when the baby is in its first year, and it is interesting to see the government admit the current rules on paternity leave marginalise men.

The issue of how much time off employers can give people at this period in a parent's life when their whole world changes is key.

Parenting involves dual responsibility of epic proportions. When a baby comes into a household, it is like an asteroid has hit.

It is about time that an official welcome of parenthood for fathers was put in place. My wife is Czech and they value the role of both parents.

I negotiated a deal with my employer over how much leave I could take but I didn't get any paid leave.

I am in a position of responsibility at the public relations company where I work so I was able to get people to cover my work. However, I understand the difficulties that people in small businesses can face.

But I believe it makes more sense from the point of view of a business owner to award the time off with pay as they will then reap the long term benefits and enthusiasm of the more loyal, grateful and enthusiastic employee.

Sarah Turvey, Trowbridge, parent and small business owner

Image caption Sarah Turvey has four children but understands businesses are facing challenges

My husband Mike and I have run our own company for around 20 years. We understand the challenges but no one helps us - the small businesses.

Our business involves carpet and upholstery cleaning and flood restoration. We can't just send anyone out. They have to be properly trained.

It's all very well the government saying we can have the paternity leave back but it doesn't replace our missing employee.

If we have a job booked and our employee can't make it because of parental commitments, then we have to cancel the booking. That can affect our reputation. It's fine for big companies that can have cover but it is a huge stress for us.

When my four children were born, my husband couldn't take any parental leave. He came to see me at the hospital and then went straight back to work. That was perfectly fine.

Although I appreciate that people want to spend time with their family, and that is the reasoning behind this, I do think that as a society we're getting softer - especially when it comes to employment.

It's getting more difficult for small businesses to just get on with the job.

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