An insurer will give all employees who become new parents up to 12 weeks leave on full pay regardless of whether the parent is the primary or secondary caregiver.

QBE, which employs around 210 staff in New Zealand, will launch its Share the Care initiative on September 1, making it possible for both parents to take extended time off at the same time.

Previously it had offered the 12 weeks but only to the primary caregiver while the secondary caregiver was able to take two weeks paid partner leave.

Declan Moore, chief customer officer at QBE New Zealand and Pacific, said by removing the primary and secondary caregiver restrictions it hoped to open the leave up to more dads and same sex partners and normalise taking time off work to care for children for both genders.

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"What we do know is that being a caregiver is one of the biggest disruptions to career growth."

He said research had shown taking a career break was a systemic cause of gender inequality.

"Trying to address this at the root cause is critical."

Employees who have been with the company for at least a year will be able to take the leave in one block or flexibly as and when they need it up until the child is two years old.

It will be paid on top of the government's paid parental leave.

Moore said it had done some financial modelling on the cost of the policy to the company but that was not a factor in its introduction.

"There is going to be a cost, depending on the take-up but our aim is to have as high a take-up as possible."

Moore said a similar change to its parental leave policy in Australia had seen more dads take it up and he expected that to be the case here.

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"It will probably be gradual but we expect we will see uptake."

The government's paid parental leave is open to both men and women but very few men take it up.

In 2017 only 1 per cent of the more than 30,000 parents accessing the subsidy were men.

Moore said its policy did not require couples to prove their hierarchy of importance in the family by naming the primary or secondary caregiver.

The leave will still have to be approved by the person's manager. But Moore said he would be strongly encouraging managers to have a very open approach to any requests for leave.

Moore said by allowing both men and women time off when they have children it hoped to eliminate the disproportionate effect on women of having a career break.

But he admitted the policy on its own would not be enough to break perceptions that having time out of work to look after family is career limiting or damaging.

"It needs to be accompanied by strong leadership internally. It is a culture shift as well."

He said because it was currently outside of the norm for men to taken extended time off it came with an element of fear.

"Once it is normalised it resolves itself." he said.

Varun Bhawnani, who works in the claims team at QBE, will be one of the first to use the new policy when it comes into force.

Bhawnani who had a baby boy with his wife Pia in May, said if the policy had been in place when the child was born he would have taken more time off but was unable to do so because of the financial impact.

He had been allowed to work from home more and the company's existing flexible leave policy had allowed him time off to attend a Plunket event on sleep-training and his son's vaccinations.

Not only did the time off allow him to bond more with his son and wife but it gave him greater appreciation for what his wife did while at home.

Bhawnani said he hadn't faced any downside from taking time out of work for family but doing so had given him the ability to think about it.

"If I feel that way how does she feel? It has given me much more appreciation from the view of my wife."

He planned to use the future leave to take time off when his son started daycare and said having it meant he wouldn't have to dig into annual leave.


Who takes paid parental leave?
• In 2008 220 men took paid parental leave. In 2017 it was 324.
• In 2008 25,676 women took paid parental leave. In 2017 it was 30,252.
• Paid parental leave is currently 22 weeks but will be extended to 26 weeks from July 2020.