Network Rail is reported to have slashed its maternity pay to female employees, after it had to pay more than £28,000 to a male employee for sex discrimination.
The payout was awarded to David Snell, a father who wanted to take shared parental leave, along with his wife, who also works for Network Rail, when their baby was born, in January.
However, when he applied for the leave, the Snells found a disparity in the pay they would receive. As the male employee, David Snell was only entitled to statutory parental pay (around £140 per week) compared to his wife, who would receive full pay for 26 weeks.
David Snell raised a grievance with the company, which stated: “Under this policy, payments to mothers on shared parental leave will be at significantly different rates to fathers, ie. 26 weeks’ full pay and 13 weeks’ statutory compared with 39 weeks’ statutory for fathers. As a result of this, I believe I am being discriminated against because of my sex.”
His request was rejected, as Network Rail reportedly argued that it had met its legal requirement, as it was only obliged to pay statutory parental pay. Snell then took his case to an employment tribunal and later appealed the decision, which was also rejected.
However, the grievance was not taken to a hearing for months, which the tribunal heard had caused Snell additional distress: he was hospitalised for high blood pressure before the baby’s due date. The tribunal found that Snell was indirectly discriminated against by Network Rail, in relation to his sex by the application of its family friendly policy.
“The policy put the claimant at a particular disadvantage as a man when compared with a women during periods of shared parental leave,” said Judge Frances Eccles. Snell was awarded £28, 321.03 because of the discriminatory policy. Since then, Network Rail has reduced women’s maternity leave entitlement to statutory payment only “to ensure fairness” – a move which has sparked outrage on social media.
Shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015. The new rules, which allow parent to take up to 50 weeks off between them, have been criticised by researchers, think tanks, family and equality campaigners as a ‘light touch’. The rules are overly complicated and often mean that families are financially worse off if men take the leave, say researchers, who point to countries such as Sweden and Iceland, where shared parental leave is more successful, as examples of best practice.