When the shared parental leave legislation was introduced creating the potential for fathers to take extended periods of leave, I predicted that it would only be a matter of time before a gentleman argued that an employer who paid him merely at the statutory parental pay rate of £139.58 a week, was acting in a discriminatory manner because the employer paid enhanced maternity pay to women.  Recently there has been an employment tribunal decision in the case of Snell v Network Rail on this very topic.

In this case both parents worked for Network Rail and when they were expecting their first child they planned to take shared parental leave splitting the leave period so that Mrs Snell took 27 weeks and Mr Snell would take 12 weeks.  Under the Network Rail maternity policy Mrs Snell would receive full pay for a period of 26 weeks. Mr Snell was told he would only get the statutory rate of parental pay, and he would also be opted out of the pension scheme during his leave period.

Mr Snell raised a grievance pointing out the significant impact on fathers contrasting the fact that mothers could potentially have 26 weeks full pay with 13 weeks statutory pay on top whereas the men would only get 39 weeks statutory pay. His grievance made it clear that he thought he was being discriminated against on the grounds of his sex.

Network Rail argued that it was merely following the legal requirements under the shared parental legislation.

For some reason the employer delayed dealing with the grievance causing Mr Snell additional distress – in the tribunal hearing evidence was given that he’d ended up in hospital with high blood pressure in the run-up to the arrival of the child.

By the time it reached the Employment Tribunal Network Rail had had to concede that their scheme indirectly discriminated against men putting them at a disadvantage when compared with women during periods of shared parental leave, presumably they didn’t even try and justify what they had done.

Mr Snell was awarded £28,321.03.  In response to the decision Network Rail has actually reduced women’s entitlement to enhanced maternity pay removing it altogether so that everyone now gets statutory pay.  It’s a real shame that the company’s response to this development was to take away rights from mothers.

Clearly this decision is only going to affect employers who have enhanced maternity schemes in place and anyone considering removing a benefit like Network Rail ought to take advice before they do so.  In particular removing a benefit from a particular date can result in a spike in pregnancies as women rush to reach a cut-off point e.g. if they had been planning to have a baby next year and the policy was going to change on 1st January they might just decide to get in early. Employers also tend to forget the negative impact that making a change such as Network Rail has, can cause amongst female staff.