If an employer pays enhanced maternity pay, must it also enhance pay to employees on shared parental leave?

It is for employers to decide whether or not to enhance contractual pay to employees on shared parental leave, where they already pay enhanced maternity pay. There is no statutory provision requiring them to do so. However, when making such a decision, employers should bear in mind the need to avoid any discrimination.

If an employer pays enhanced pay to employees on maternity leave, but not to employees on shared parental leave, there is a risk of sex discrimination claims from male employees who take shared parental leave who consider that they are being treated less favourably than female employees on maternity leave. However, such an employer may be able to defend a sex discrimination claim on the ground that a male employee on shared parental leave is treated no less favourably than a female employee on shared parental leave.

It is not yet known how tribunals and courts will approach the question of who is the correct comparator in such a case (ie whether the comparator should be an employee on maternity leave or a female employee on shared parental leave). There is also a question over whether or not a policy of enhancing only maternity pay might be allowed under provisions allowing "special treatment afforded to a woman in connection with pregnancy or childbirth" (s.13(6)(b) of the Equality Act 2010).

Employers that seek to defend an indirect sex discrimination claim by justifying a policy of enhancing maternity pay but not shared parental pay will need evidence to show that the policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. In the employment tribunal case of Shuter v Ford Motor Company Ltd ET/3203504/2013, the employer was able to justify its policy of enhancing maternity pay but not additional paternity pay, as it had clear evidence that the aim of the policy was to attract and retain female employees, and that female representation in the workforce had improved.

However, in Snell v Network Rail ETS/4100178/2016, which was also a first-instance case at the employment tribunal and therefore not binding on other tribunals, the employer conceded that its policy of giving a period of full pay to mothers on shared parental leave, but paying only statutory shared parental pay to partners did amount to indirect sex discrimination against men.

An employer considering enhancing pay to employees on shared parental leave should take into account that shared parental leave can be taken in discontinuous periods. The employer would have to decide whether, for example, it will enhance pay for all periods of shared parental leave, for only the first period taken by an employee or for only a certain number of weeks. It should also consider whether or not an employee who has already benefited from enhanced maternity pay will be entitled to a further period of enhanced pay if she swaps to shared parental leave.