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Working dads shouldn’t have to choose between giving financial or moral support to their pregnant partners writes Amy Downes
Amy Downes is a freelance social media consultant with a three-year-old son and another baby due very soon. She got in touch with workingdads.co.uk via Twitter with a tale of what working dads sometimes have to put up with and the difficult choices they have to make.
She agreed to share her story. Perhaps it will ring a bell with you.
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Here’s Amy’s story:
I wrote this blog later than I’d hoped due to my three-year-old’s birthday party yesterday which, quite frankly, knackered me out.
At 32-weeks pregnant, I am tiring easily and this afternoon I decided to take a nap rather than force myself on with work. It’s the benefit of having a flexible working schedule, I can adapt my hours to suit the times when I know I’ll perform at my best.
I don’t need to tell you how good flexible hours can be, thankfully businesses are starting to realise they need to move away from the bog standard ‘9 – 5’ life if they want to retain talented working mums. More and more often we hear how employers are supporting women so they can have a better work/life balance, and that is great…
But can the same be said for men?
Earlier this year, a survey showed that, although fathers are becoming more involved in raising their children, around half find themselves discriminated against by their employer when requesting flexible working hours. Shocking.
The discrimination against fathers appears to begin during pregnancy. My partner and I recently discovered this first-hand and it’s making me rather angry, which is not a good thing to do to a woman who’s three quarters of the way through growing a baby (there’ll be many Dads nodding knowingly at this, I’m sure).
We’ve found out that my partner was docked half a day’s pay after he joined me for an unplanned visit to the maternity assessment unit. Their reasoning? Because, thankfully, ‘everything had turned out to be okay.’
The day before, I had been feeling unwell: dizzy spells, lights in front of my eyes, headaches and pins and needles. By the following morning and after a good night’s sleep things were no better, so I called the midwife and she advised me to go and get checked out.
My partner spoke to his HR team who told him he absolutely must go home to be with me for the trip to hospital, a relief for us both because I didn’t actually think it was safe for me to drive myself given the symptoms I was experiencing.
After a couple of hours, I had had all the usual checks and a doctor came in to speak to me about my symptoms. He explained that these can be signs of pre-eclampsia – a condition that can have serious consequences for mother and baby – and that was why they’d been concerned enough to ask me to come in. But the tests they’d run on my blood pressure and the like confirmed this wasn’t the case.
It could have been so much worse, and I was so grateful to have my partner with me. When I thanked him for coming to my aid, he said: ‘I have to be there – I need to do whatever I can to make sure my fiancée and my baby are safe.’
At the time, we were under the impression his employers felt the same, but last week he received his wage slip and it turned out they had taken away some of his pay for his afternoon ‘off’. He has spoken to HR and his union and both have told him the same: He is entitled to time off for the scans and they would have covered him had there been anything terribly wrong. He also has two days for ‘childcare’, but those have been used already for, you know, taking care of our toddler.
The ACAS website confirms this, while a pregnant woman is entitled to reasonable paid time off to attend antenatal care – her partner is entitled to unpaid time off for just two appointments, and that is capped at six hours each time.
It just makes no sense to me. Surely a father has just as much right to be at these appointments? And the cap of two appointments does not allow for any additional issues that often arise during pregnancy – like the pre-eclampsia that I thankfully wasn’t experiencing.
Here, we’d made a completely reasonable request to take time out of the office for an appointment – a rather worrying one at that – and it had been denied. In their own words, had he been the Mum, they would, of course, have paid him. Infuriating.
It’s issues like this that are exasperating the problem of gender equality at work and the gender pay gap. As long as we keep assuming the woman is the primary caregiver for their child, and denying men their equal right to that, we will never have a diverse and balanced workforce because the childcare burden can never be shared.
And how awful it is for the men to be put in a position where they have to literally choose between providing their family with financial support, or the equally important moral support.
We need more employers to embrace the idea that parenting is a 50/50 world and Dads have equal rights to the same support women are, slowly, getting more access to. Flexible working isn’t just important for Mums, Dads need it too because they are just as needed at home as they are at work.