Shared parental leave: how it works

Couples with babies due, or who adopt after 5 April 2015 will be entitled to share parental leave. Here’s how it works.

Historically, only mothers have had the right to maternity leave and pay.  Shared parental leave will grant families the choice for both mother and father to share these rights.

On 1 December 2014 the law changed giving new rights to parents to share parental leave following the birth or adoption of their child. This gives couples more flexibility in how they share the care of their child in the first year, following birth or adoption; namely a choice about whether the mother takes all of the maternity leave or if she shares it with her partner.

Employed mothers will continue to be entitled to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and up to 39 weeks statutory maternity pay.  Statutory paternity leave of two weeks will also continue for fathers.  However, under the new rules, a mother can end their maternity or adoption leave and share untaken leave with the other parent.

Parents can share up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave and 37 weeks of pay (the mother must take the initial two weeks following birth). Couples can share leave by having time off work at the same time, consecutively or for alternate periods to look after their child.

To be eligible for shared parental leave both parents must have responsibility for care of the child and satisfy an ‘employment and earnings’ test. Broadly speaking this test requires both parents to have been employed for 26 weeks’ at the end of the 15th week before the due date and be earning roughly £30 per week.  However, the regulations also allow a family to use shared parental leave rights where one parent is self-employed.

Employees must notify their employer of their intention to take shared leave and give at least 8 weeks’ notice of the specific dates.

Employers cannot refuse a request but they can say no to intermittent periods of leave (blocks of leave of at least a week broken by periods of work) provided they do this quickly, they have only 2 weeks from the date of the request to turn it down.  Where this happens, an employee can elect to take the requested leave in a single block, or withdraw the notice and submit a brand new notice.

Further, an employee is normally only entitled to submit three separate notices to book leave or vary leave. Once leave has been agreed it can only be varied by the employee giving 8 weeks’ notice with the new periods of leave.

Only time will tell whether couples choose to share parental leave.  Although, it is hoped that shared parental leave will increase the numbers of fathers sharing childcare, the Government predicts only 2-8% of those eligible will do this.  Watch this space.

So, practical tips for employers:

(1)  Be prepared to start receiving notices of eligibility and intention to take shared parental leave  from qualifying employees from January 2015;

(2)  Ensure refusals for discontinuous periods of leave are given within two weeks of the request first being given;

(3)  Where you currently pay enhanced maternity pay and benefits to mothers, consider how to structure any enhanced shared parental leave pay and benefits fairly.  A refusal to pay fathers the same as mothers will likely amount to sex discrimination;

(4)  Ensure that fathers are treated the same as mothers in terms of how the employer deals with requests and notice to take leave.  Different treatment that is unfair could amount to sex discrimination;

(5)  Amend existing maternity, paternity and adoption policies and forms and where relevant contracts of employment;

(6)  Consider how your business would cope with the potential long term absence of staff, particularly key employees.  How will you distribute workloads and ensure a sufficient hand over of work.  Should you cross train staff, or consider using agency staff.

If you require assistance please contact either Kerry Curd (01626 202406 kerrycurd@wbw.co.uk) or James Edmonds (01626 202329 jamesedmonds@wbw.co.uk) for a no obligation consultation.